South African Airways (SAA) is planning on introducing flights to several African countries as part of its route expansion plans, which have seen the airline altering its flight schedule for places like Beijing and New York. Meanwhile, competitors are also adding routes to the growing African market.
SAA plans to grow its routes as well as improve its infrastructure, chief executive Siza Mzimela said on Monday while hosting the annual breakfast at the 32nd Tourism Indaba.
Mzimela said SAA would start flights to Abuja in Nigeria, Madagascar, the Republic of Congo and Burundi, whilst also growing in South America, Asia and India.
“We are beginning to see open skies and we want to understand how this will impact on us and also the opportunities it will bring. But also important is opening up Africa for Africa, that has been lacking,” Mzimela said. “The focus on the continent is important.”
“We have also looked at how we can add frequency to Entebbe (Uganda), Harare and sometimes operating wider (200 to 250 seats) aircraft to Nairobi,” Mzimela said. Nigeria is also an important market, and SAA recently opened a lounge there. Theunis Potgieter, the general manager for commercial at SAA, told IOL that they would offer two to three flights a week to Abuja, Nigeria, on a smaller aircraft.
Mzimela said the new routes would be added gradually and in accordance with bilateral agreements and other partnerships. SAA is a member of the Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance, which should make flying to other nations a smoother process, particularly regarding codeshare.
From September 1, SAA will commence direct services between Johannesburg and Beijing. Flights will be carried out using an A340-600 capable of carrying 379 passengers in a three-class cabin layout. At the moment travellers have to travel by way of Hong Kong, Singapore or even Europe to get to Beijing. SAA flies to Beijing from Cairo at present.
SAA earlier this year announced that from the first of May it would expand its flight schedule to include non-stop flights between Johannesburg and New York. Due to increasing demand from Africa, the airline said it would increase the number of flights between Johannesburg and Windhoek, Namibia, from March 27. In the rest of Africa, from February 27 SAA planned to begin operating a wide body aircraft between Johannesburg and Nairobi, Kenya.
The flag carrier also announced it would increase the frequency of its flights to Entebbe, Uganda from March 29, and add additional flights to Harare, Zimbabwe from the same date. Domestically, SAA has increased seats available on the Johannesburg to Cape Town routes.
SAA has plans to use its low cost Mango division as part of its growth strategy and will commence Mango flights from Lanseria in July. “We are also looking to see if there is a role that Mango can play to open up tourist destinations like Mombasa (Kenya) and Zanzibar,” Mzimela said. She added that, “there is still a lot of work to be done.”
SAA is not the only airline with ambitious expansion plans. Comair recently announced plans to introduce direct international flights from Durban’s King Shaka International Airport to London. On May 3 Comair, under its BA brand, launched flights from Lanseria International to Maputo in Mozambique and Gaborone in Botswana, according to the Mozambique Investor. Comair is leasing a 66-seat ATR 72 turboprop from Solenta Aviation and is using it on the new routes.