South African Airways (SAA) received its first new Airbus A330-300 on Friday, with the remaining four aircraft on order due to arrive later this month and early next year.
The flag carrier said the deliveries will allow it to expand its current route network and improve its efficiencies.
“A new aircraft arrival in our fleet is a special occasion and does not happen often. We are therefore very excited about the potential for growth the new arrivals will offer. Customers will be pleased with the latest-generation on-board amenities and other cabin features on the A330-300s. They certainly offer customers an improved travel experience,” said SAA Acting CEO Musa Zwane.
In SAA’s configuration, the aircraft has capacity for 249 passengers, with 46 in premium Business Class and 203 in Economy Class.
SAA has a fleet of 53 aircraft, and is now looking at revitalising its fleet to modernise the aircraft it operates as much as possible and acquire more fuel efficient machines, something that is critical on long-haul routes. SAA was due to receive 20 new Airbus A320s but has exchanged ten of these for the lease of five A330-300s, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines.
The A330-300s feature an increased 242-tonne maximum take-off weight and an extended range of 6 350 nautical miles (11 750km) – typically routes of up to 11 hours – compared with previous versions of the aircraft.
“Beyond product refresh which our customers will surely enjoy, this is an important milestone for us in the context of the implementation of our Long-Term Turnaround Strategy (LTTS) we unveiled three years ago. The new aircraft will bring much needed efficiencies and this is expected to impact positively on the company’s bottom line,” explained Zwane.
“We remain committed to ensuring that the airline becomes financially self-reliant and the arrival of these aircraft mark a stepping stone in our move in that direction. Our projections indicate that we will break even by year 2021 before we start becoming profitable again,” Zwane said.
Although SAA has seen revenue grow 10% a year in recent years, it has for some time struggled to turn a profit and in the 2014-15 financial year received R6 billion in loan guarantees from the state – since 2007 SAA has received R14.5 billion in state loan guarantees. However, the airline is carrying out its turnaround strategy that involves actions such as cutting unprofitable routes, freezing staff numbers and collaborating with airlines such as Etihad and Air China on new routes. National Treasury is seeking to consolidate SAA and state-owned SA Express and in October hired Bain and Company South Africa and Abacus Advisory to realign the country’s state-owned airlines.