SAA mulls A380 move through ILFC lease deal

Cape Town
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Airline evaluates acquisition of ultra large aircraft and starts discussions with US lessor

South African Airways (SAA) is considering dipping its toe into Airbus A380 operations, through the lease of a small batch of aircraft from International Lease Finance (ILFC).

“SAA is re-evaluating its long-term fleet plan based on its international growth strategy,” says the airline’s general manager business development, Nomfanelo Magwentshu.

“Decisions will be based on the aircraft that will best serve the business and, if the A380 fits in with that strategy, then certainly we would go with it,” she says.

While SAA has not detailed acquisition options, Hadi Akoum, Airbus vice president sales Africa and Indian Ocean, says the airframer and lessor ILFC are talking to SAA about an A380 deal. The airline’s long haul services are currently operated by a fleet of A340s and Boeing 747-400s, and SAA is believed to be considering an initial batch of at least two aircraft.

Although airline sources say SAA is unlikely to commit to a long-term lease on an A380 before finalising its separation from parent Transnet, which awaits government legislation, the airline may need to make a decision soon if it wants to introduce the ultra-large aircraft this decade. Akoum says that leasing companies are unlikely to have any A380s available for delivery before 2009, while Airbus’s earliest free slot is 2011.

Johannesburg International Airport (JIA) is preparing for A380 operations as several customer airlines have signalled their intentions to operate to South Africa. This could leave SAA at a disadvantage if the A380’s promised economics enable competitors to lower fares and have a marketing edge.

Meanwhile, the A380 could make its first visit to South Africa later this year, with Airbus planning to bring it to September’s Africa Aerospace and Defense show.

HILKA BIRNS / CAPE TOWN