South African Airways (SAA) is planning to lease three widebody and three narrowbody aircraft in the short-term and will in the next week release a long-term fleet tender for the period to 2017.

SAA, which is progressing with its restructuring plan, is preparing for its future growth as it revisits its plan to serve Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Speaking to ATI during a Star Alliance event in Vienna, SAA president and chief executive Khaya Ngqula said: “We have announced this week to our staff that with immediate effect we are looking for three A340-300s [or 777s] on lease.

“This is because of the demand and growth in the business and because of the restructuring. We need more frequencies on our profitable routes.”

He adds that SAA is also looking to lease three 737-800s. “It’s going to be three narrowbodies and three widebodies,” he says.

“We are sending out invitations to Boeing and Airbus and the other suppliers to compete and give is the best solution. We need them in the next three or four months. We need them urgently.

US carriers are grounding aircraft, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. There’re always aircraft available, it’s just a question of price. We have had some tentative three- to five-year lease offers.”

Ngqula says SAA is planning to serve Buenos Aires at least thrice-weekly from the end of 2008. SAA originally planned to launch Buenos Aires in late 2006 but, along with a new Chicago route, it was put on ice as part of the airline’s restructuring.

SAA has no plans to re-visit the Chicago route and Rio, another previously earmarked route, remains unlikely as it is a leisure destination and goes against the airline’s plans to expand into business markets.

Instead it plans to focus on Africa, which Ngqula describes as SAA’s “bread and butter”. By June it will add two new African links, to Douala in Cameroon and Maun in Botswana, and will increase capacity on its most successful African services.

As part of its long-term plan, covering the period to 2017, SAA is aiming to expand its fleet through an aircraft tender. Ngqula declines to give specific details of SAA’s capacity requirements or the breakdown between long- and short-haul types.

He says: “In that process we will renew our existing fleet and fill in some of the gaps. In total we are looking at more than 20 aircraft by the end of 2017.

“We will give a specification to suppliers and talk to them about it. We will probably give them the specification this week. We will look right across the board.”

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news