South African airline again considers ultra-large aircraft to replace Boeing 747s on its dense services to London

South African Airways (SAA) is looking to place an order for about six Airbus A380s within the next year to replace Boeing 747-400s on services to London.

Industry sources say a new round of A380 presentations were made to SAA last month and an order is expected by early next year.

If the A380 replaces SAA's 747s, it would be the last piece of an all-Airbus fleet that includes A330/A340s and will have A320s from August. Sources say Airbus had been confident that SAA would need the ultra-large aircraft to enable it to compete with Virgin Atlantic Airways' A380s on the dense, low-yield London-Cape Town and London-Johannesburg markets. However the urgency has been reduced as the UK airline has just deferred its A380 order.

SAA confirms it is "evaluating the potential applications of the A380 on the route network of the airline".

SAA considered ordering A380s as part of its 2002 $3.5 billion mega-order for 25 A319/A320s, nine A340-600s and five A340-300s. But the carrier decided buying three aircraft types at the same time would cost too much, and in 2003 delayed by another year any A380 consideration because of the SARS virus and the Iraq war.

The A340s are being used on routes to continental Europe, Asia, Australia and the USA. The A340s are expected to remain the long-term solution for routes to Asia, Australia and the USA, and to Paris and Zurich in Europe. SAA is also expected to swap the mix of 747s it now uses for São Paulo for A340s.

The A380 is believed to be a candidate to replace between five and seven of SAA's eight 747-400s, which are used mainly to support the carrier's triple daily services into London Heathrow, where slot constraints prevent SAA from expanding. The A380 could also replace the A340s now used on SAA's daily Frankfurt service, depending on future demand.

Meanwhile, SAA is looking to boost its three-times-a-week flights to Paris after its application to join the Star Alliance is decided in June. This will probably lead to termination of its Air France codeshare.

Source: Flight International