South African Airways introduces non-stop flights to Beijing; strengthens African routes


South African Airways (SAA) has today launched its non-stop route to Beijing, China, with a passenger jet departing on the first of three new weekly frequencies between South Africa and the Chinese capital.

SAA is operating its Airbus A340-600 long-haul aircraft on the non-stop route to China, which has a flying time of approximately 15 hours. Flights depart Johannesburg on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The SA-China route’s introduction follows a comprehensive strategic partnership forged between the two countries in August last year, SAA said.
“The introduction of aviation links between nations nurtures economic activity,” said SAA CEO Siza Mzimela, “with domestic and regional benefit within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) expected to pay dividends both in terms of trade and tourism.” Mzimela also believes that substantial demand for tourism and trade to China will contribute to the success of the new route. China is one of South Africa’s largest trade partners.

The Johannesburg Beijing route will also contribute significantly in establishing South Africa as an aviation hub between South America and China, linking three of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). “We believe that the route will play a strategic role in the growing economic relationships and dependencies between the continents. Commercially, SAA is able to deliver seamless travel from Sao Paolo via Johannesburg to Beijing, servicing all three continents” said Mzimela.

Meanwhile on the African continent, SAA is strengthening its networks in Central African, having introduced flights to Pointe Noire in the Republic of the Congo from January 26. SAA flies to 21 cities on the continent with the commencement of the Pointe Noire service.

Pointe Noire is being served twice a week (Thursday and Sunday), with an A319 narrow body aircraft. These aircraft offer 120 seats 95 economy and 25 in business class.

Pointe Noire, the economic capital of the Congo, is SAA’s fourth new destination on the continent for the 2011/12 financial year, joining Ndola (Zambia), Kigali (Rwanda) and Bujumbura (Burundi) as the airline’s most recent additions to its expansive route network in Africa. In the next six months three more routes will be added, including one to Benin.

Pointe Noire is also the second largest city in the Congo, after the capital Brazzaville and the main commercial centre of the country. Pointe Noire is the centre of the oil industry in the Congo, which is one of the main oil producers in Central Africa.
“Air access is increasing in Africa and, with more access, there is more competition. There is a lot of stimulation in the sector,” said Theunis Potgieter, GM: Commercial at SAA. “The growth in Africa is in double digits and a lot of that is South Africans flying to do business on the continent.”

Africa’s economic growth as well as investment from overseas countries, notably China and India, is driving competition in the domestic aviation industry, but a saturated market is causing many South African carriers to look outside the country’s borders for new opportunities.
“The local market is saturated and I think it is specifically in the low-cost segment where the bloodbath is,” said Rodger Foster, CEO of SA Airlink, which flies to 28 Southern African destinations. “The low-cost segment is becoming really tough and the consequence is that local operators are looking beyond SA,” Mr Foster says. “They have to look for additional revenue streams and this is one of the key drivers of growth into Africa.”

Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the 17-member Airlines Association of Southern Africa, said that, “Africa is ripe for growth and it will be one of the regions with the highest growth rates in a year that is going to be very challenging for the industry worldwide.”