Airbus denies South African media reports that South African Airways (SAA) has dropped plans to buy 15 Airbus A320-200s, due for delivery between 2008 and 2010.

"We are in close contact with all of our customers - including SAA - and are always willing to discuss their changing requirements. However, SAA has not yet raised this specific issue with us so the status of the 2002 order remains unchanged," says Airbus. The manufacturer says SAA has already paid deposits for the aircraft.

A delegation from the airline was last week due to meet Airbus officials in Toulouse to "discuss our requirements", says SAA. The airline refuses to comment on media reports based on a 27 August briefing by SAA's state-controlled parent company Transnet. The reports quoted Transnet chief executive Maria Ramos as saying "the A320 order falls away and some of the others are being financed on a lease basis". Transnet declines to comment further.

In 2002, SAA said it planned to take most of its new A320 family aircraft on operating leases. Transnet's 2003-4 annual report, released last week, confirms this. All of SAA's A319s are to be taken on operating leases through the Bank of Scotland. SAA received the first of 11 A319s last week, with the second due on 6 September. Some of its A340-300E long-haul widebodies have been put on operating leases through other banks. Of the nine A340-600s ordered, three are from US-based leasing giant, ILFC.

Largely as a result of currency speculation, SAA's combined losses for the past two years have swollen to R15 billion ($2.28 billion). The entire board of Transnet resigned 27 August following the group's financial results. Ramos said Transnet would offload SAA, viewed as non-core to its rail and harbour activities, but the South African government ruled out privatisation. Public enterprise minister Alec Erwin says SAA will remain a strategic national asset.

* The South African government has confirmed the appointment of Khaya Ngqula as SAA's new chief executive from mid-October, replacing Andre Viljoen.



Source: Flight International