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SAA to lease two additional 737-800s; eyes two more widebodies

South African Airways (SAA) plans to lease two additional Boeing 737-800s this year to support growth of its African network and is also considering leasing two additional widebody aircraft to resume expansion of its long-haul network.

New SAA CEO Siza Mzimela says the Star Alliance carrier is looking to lease two widebodies in addition to the six Airbus A330-200s it plans to lease from early 2011. While SAA decided last year to acquire the A330-200s as replacements for its six Airbus A340-200s, she says the two additional widebodies would be growth aircraft.

"There's a possibility of bringing in two of them," she said during last week's Star Alliance event in Sao Paulo. "We will wait for the necessary approvals."

Mzimela says it is unlikely the two additional widebodies would be delivered this year as SAA does not expect to resume expanding its long-haul network, which was cut back during a 2007-2008 restructuring, until at least next year. "Most of our increases will come between 2011 and 2013. It's unlikely that it will happen now," she says.

However, Mzimela reveals the carrier plans to launch two new African destinations this year. She says the new routes, which she declines to disclose, will be operated with two additional 737-800s that SAA has agreed to lease.

With the two new leases the SAA group has committed to expanding its 737-800 fleet from 21 to 23 aircraft even through this aircraft type is now slated to be replaced by new Airbus A320s from 2013.

SAA last year re-committed to its 2002 order for 15 A320s and increased the order to 20 aircraft. When the order was first placed in 2002 the A320 deliveries were scheduled to start in 2010. But as part of the re-negotiation concluded with Airbus last year the first delivery was deferred to 2013.

As SAA's 737-800 leases start expiring this year, with a majority of the leases set to expire in 2011 and 2012, Mzimela says they are being extended to match up with the delivery of the carrier's A320s. "We will renew them to coincide with the arrival of the A320s," she explains.

She says the leases SAA has forged covering the two additional 737-800s that will be delivered this year will be short term because these aircraft will eventually be replaced by new A320s from the 20-aircraft order.

SAA's narrowbody fleet currently consist of 11 A319s and 17 737-800s, according to Flightglobal's ACAS database. Another four 737-800s that were originally in SAA's mainline fleet are now leased by sister low-cost carrier Mango.

Mzimela confirms all of the 737-800s now operated by SAA and sister low-cost carrier Mango will be replaced by A320s. "Mango will be part of the A320 programme as well," she says.

ATI first reported last July that Mango expected to be part of SAA's anticipated A320 acquisition, which was subsequently firmed up in October. The low-cost carrier, which at one point considered keeping a 737-800 fleet even if SAA decided to switch to an all A320-narrowbody fleet, plans to grow its fleet from four to 10 aircraft within the next few years.

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