South African Airways Getting Rid Of Most Planes

Filed Under: South African Airways

Over the past few months we’ve seen airlines around the world ground planes temporarily, and now we’re increasingly seeing airlines get rid of planes permanently.

It’s clear that demand won’t fully recover anytime soon, so many airlines are expected to be much smaller than in the past. As a result, airlines are having to make difficult fleet decisions.

Well, in the coming week South African Airways will be getting rid of a majority of its fleet permanently, as the future of the airline remains uncertain. One thing is for sure — it won’t be the same as in the past.

South African Airways’ current situation

SAA has been a basket case for a long time — the airline has been losing money since 2011, and the government has provided just enough funding to keep the airline operating, but not enough funding or direction for anything to materially change.

The airline entered business rescue as of December 2019, a procedure by which a practitioner took control of the company, with the goal of maximizing the odds of survival, or at a minimum achieving a better return for creditors than if the company were to outright liquidate.

In mid-April the government was committed to cutting off SAA, and days later the airline prepared to liquidate and fire all staff… and then nothing happened.

Several weeks ago we learned that the government would backtrack, and SAA would be getting another bailout. However, not a whole lot has changed in recent weeks, as South Africa’s borders are closed. As a result, SAA has exclusively been operating repatriation flights.

South African Airways plans huge aircraft retirements

Over the coming week, South African Airways plans on permanently retiring a majority of its fleet. Currently South African Airways’ fleet consists of up to 28 aircraft, including:

  • Three Airbus A319s
  • 10 Airbus A320s
  • Five Airbus A330s
  • Six Airbus A340s
  • Four Airbus A350s

Over the coming days South African Airways plans to retire most of its planes. This has been reported by Aviation Central, though I’ve also been able to independently verify this. I’d note that the numbers I’ve heard are slightly different than what’s quoted in the linked story, but let’s go with those numbers, since they’re out there already, and they’re close enough.

SAA A320s

On July 14, 2020, South African Airways will be getting rid of six of 10 Airbus A320s, including planes with the following registration codes:

  • ZS-SZB
  • ZS-SZC
  • ZS-SZD
  • ZS-SZF
  • ZS-SZG
  • ZS-SZH

SAA A330s

On July 15, 2020, South African Airways will be getting rid of all five remaining A330s, including planes with the following registration codes:

  • ZS-SXI
  • ZS-SXK
  • ZS-SXJ
  • ZS-SXL
  • ZS-SXM

SAA A350s

South African Airways only recently started leasing A350s, which was supposed to be an exciting development for the airline, as the planes were intended to fly exclusively to New York and Frankfurt. These aircraft are significantly more fuel efficient than the A340 fleet, and also feature a better business class product.

As you might expect, the airline has reconsidered these at this point. On July 10, 2020, South African Airways will be getting rid of two of four A350-900s, including planes with the following registration codes:

  • ZS-SDC
  • ZS-SDD

What does that leave in SAA’s fleet?

With these changes, SAA’s long haul fleet will be left with just six A340s and two A350s. However, it’s my understanding that:

On top of that the airline will have a few A320-family narrow body aircraft.

Bottom line

South African Airways will be getting rid of a majority of its planes in the coming week. The airline plans to retire all A330s, two A350s, and some A320s.

This means the airline will be left with fewer than a dozen planes, including two A350s (which the airline still wants to get rid of), some A340s, and some narrow body planes.

SAA’s future is still uncertain, though at this point it will at best be a shell of what it once was.

Are you surprised to see these SAA aircraft retirements?

  1. I’m really surprised they’re retiring so many aircraft with individual air vents.

  2. I’m surprised that the government is allowing this to happen.

    That said, SAA has been highly overrated, with consistently poor/surly service.

    BA (Comair) is far superior within South African and southern Africa.

    I’m sorry about the loss of jobs associated with SAA’s downsizing; hopefully a better flag carrier can emerge in its place.

  3. Put a fork in it. It’s done.

    Time for someone else to move in and try to build a new national carrier.

  4. You are missing the last A330-200 (ZS-SXU) which is supposedly also being returned next week – it is from the same lessor as the 2 ex-HNA A350-900s being returned.

    The remaining five A330s you listed are all A330-300s (ZS-SXI/J/K/L/M) from different lessors. The other 5 A330-200s (ZS-SXV/W/X/Y/Z) have already been returned to lessor.

  5. SAA first on the 747-SPs in the 170’s and 80’s was amazing.
    Different time.
    Different regime.

  6. Norm,

    You are so correct. Those were special times to say the least ( no pun intended).

    I miss those days (of air travel). 🙁

  7. I can’t agree with the comment above that BA Comair is vastly superior to SAA. SAA is poorly managed, in deep trouble, etc. but in terms of the quality of the passenger experience they are leagues ahead of BA. BA is unreliable, their flights are almost always delayed, their planes are old and mostly in a terrible condition, their catering sucks, service is inconsistent at best, etc. I avoid them and their LCC sidekick kulula at all costs. The passenger experience on SAA’s A320’s is vastly better than on BA’s clapped-out 737’s. Service, catering, on-time performance, everything is better on SAA.

  8. Sub-Saharan African Aviation is really on the way to becoming Ethiopian and the 20 dwarves. KQ Also seems to be planning some pretty significant reductions in routes, planes, and staffing.

    I assume this does not affect Mango in anyway, so it seems like SAA would still be able to somewhat effectively serve SA and large parts of the continent, even if it seems to be getting out of the intercontinental game. Cape Town and Joburg are popular enough, that I doubt it will be a huge loss in the end.

  9. To be really frank, I am surprised they dropped the A350 and the A330 in favour of the A340! The A340 is an expensive plane and is a gas guzzler. And given that the A350 is leased, I bet it is cheaper than operating these gas guzzlers! omg. Heck, forget the A350. Jeez, the A330 is a better choice than the A340.

  10. @Bruh – I don’t think they had a choice in the matter. Lessors don’t like you using their planes without paying.

  11. @Bruh – SAA owns the A 340’s which is the only reason they are still around. They have been trying unsuccessfully to sell them for a while now but there is no demand. I’m very sorry about the A330’s, as much as I like the A350 the 2 + 4 + 2 configuration in Y is much nicer than the 3 + 3 + 3 in the A350. It is also a pity that they returned the two MK A350’s, the other two are leased from a Chinese airline and they have a terrible J class configuration. J on the MK birds is much nicer. But it is what it is, SAA is not left with much. The A320’s are great for domestic and regional flights but I can’t see much of a future for SAA long haul.

  12. I flew the 330s many times between JNB and GRU in business class. I really enjoyed the old seats (pictured). I’d usually get two middle seats. The amount of space was terrific. Not a fancy business class product but no Claustrophobic feeling either. Food and service was ok. And the flights were generally pretty crowded. Too bad.

  13. @TravelinWilly – Comair is also in business rescue right now and is not guaranteed to emerge as a going concern if the unions continue to play hardball with the BRP. That would result in the loss of the BA domestic franchise, as well as Kulula from the SA market.

    If that happens, when the dust settles you will be left with effectively only Mango, flySafair and Airlink as the big domestic players. That gives Airlink the chance to position themselves as the niche full service carrier using the E190s on trunk routes. Neither Nico Bezuidenhout (Mango) nor Elmar Conradie (Safair) have the appetite for entering the full service segment with their relentless LCC focus, and Rodger Foster at Airlink has made a career out of evolving to capitalise on new opportunities. Keep an eye on Airlink – they will be the dark horse.

  14. I had flights booked on SA with Chase points. Because of covid my flights had to be cancelled and now I’m left with over $600 in credit for SAA. Does anyone know if I would be able to use those credits on SAs website to book a different star alliance airline otherwise I have $600 plus in SAA credit and their not even going to be flying the routes I had originally booked.

  15. From a friend who is a SAA pilot, the business practitioners haven’t put forth a viable rescue plan but would prefer to liquidate the entire company and sell off the assets. The government has long been corrupt in running the airline as, at one time, the girlfriend of the president of South Africa was running the company. Her education was that of a second grade school teacher! No business or certainly no airline experience. The pilots insist that the union contract be held to with regards to any layoffs, etc. The minority of the pilots, mostly younger and less experienced but the “majority race” in South Africa want all of the senior pilots (mostly the “minority race” in South Africa) fired with them being retained to the “new” South African airline in spite of their lack of experience and training. The union wants all pilots to stay but in seniority order. No one has received any salary or benefits in months.

  16. @KSA63
    I flew the same product between LHR and JNB a couple of times. Just loved it. You board around 9pm, have a dinner, a drink (or two ;-), 7 hours of good sleep (if there was no thunderstorm around the equator, which was 50/50), breakfast, and then – tadaaa, you are in one of the worlds most interesting and beautiful country.
    SAA was my choice over BA/VS – I liked to African MoJo.
    Will miss the A330s 🙁

  17. Sorry to see race enter on the discussion about SAA’s demise. SAA was corrupt long before majority rule. Perhaps the “white Version” — less visible but equally destructive? Besides if you want to see corruption’s impact , led by whites, let’s talk Sabena, Enron , Lehman Brothers, US mortgage companies that caused the 2008 crash, Israeli mining companies in Africa, and Deutchbank. Or the Current US administration with limitless insider profiteering. One of the few state owned carriers as we know , is ET, run by, uh, the “majority race”.

  18. I just purchased two round trip flights from IAD to JNB for next year last month. And now I’m seeing that it’s likely going out of business. I haven’t been able to reach anybody from the company in terms of this issue or a refund. I have over $2150 into these tickets and very worried I’ll lose my money. If anybody has any insight on this I’d appreciate it!

  19. Stop the payment (Dispute) by calling your credit card company. You won’t receive the services they promise. SAA knew it was going under so it’s fraud to accept payments.

  20. @AndrewG I just got off the phone with my bank a little while ago, they said it could take up to 3 months to get my money back “IF THEY ARE ABLE TO”, it apparently depends on SAA banking and how the deem the charges

  21. Sorry. This is one reason to always use credit cards for airline purchases. I got refunded once after Sabena went under while I was in Uganda on their ticket.

  22. @AndrewG, the bank that I use I also have one of their low interest credit cards I use which I used for this purchase, but I already paid all but all of it off by now to not pay any interest. I’m at a dilemma now because I saw another flight with another airline for really cheap for my same dates but I’m scared to pull the trigger on it Incase somehow SAA stays afloat and can offer my flight, but if not then I lose out on other flight

  23. Tyler. Dispute the charge even if you paid the CC in advance. The two events are different in my experience. Payment and dispute. If it’s a Visa card marketed by your bank you’d deal with visa I think. Not ur bank.

  24. @AndrewG yeah I did dispute it, it’s a Visa but through my FCU so I talked to the company and hopefully I’ll get it resolved

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