SAA plans to finally phase out 747-400s at year-end

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South African Airways (SAA) is planning a second phase-out its Boeing 747-400 fleet at the end of this year.

The Star Alliance carrier first grounded its remaining 747-400s in 2007 as part of a fleet and network restructuring. But while the grounding was initially intended to be permanent, SAA decided to reactivate part of its 747-400 fleet in late 2008.

SAA initially called the re-introduction of 747s a temporary measure but 747-400s have continued to operate in the carrier's network over the last 18 months.

SAA's new CEO, Siza Mzimela, says the carrier is currently operating two 747-400s on its Johannesburg to Lagos and Luanda routes. But she says the aircraft are now scheduled to permanently exit SAA's fleet "at the end of the year".

She acknowledges this represents a "re-phase out" of the 747 rather than an initial phase-out but explains: "You can't exit aircraft if you don't have a replacement."

SAA over the last few years has had to push back multiple times its plans to lease additional widebody aircraft. The carrier is now scheduled to begin taking delivery in early 2011 of six new Airbus A330-200s which SAA last year agreed to lease. While the A330-200s are mainly seen as a replacement for SAA's A340-200s the new aircraft will also allow the carrier to finally pursue a permanent phase-out of its 747s.

SAA at one point operated 10 747-400s but returned one batch of aircraft in 2006 and a second batch after the 2007 restructuring was initiated.