Carrier shelves plans for A380 'at this point of time'

South African Airways (SAA) is looking to acquire more Airbus A340s to keep up with soaring demand for its long-haul services, but sees no near-term requirement for the ultra-large A380.

Chief executive Khaya Ngqula says SAA's fleet of 21 A340s and eight Boeing 747-400s is not sufficient and it urgently needs more widebodies. He says SAA is interested in buying more A340s but Airbus is only offering delivery slots from 2008, which is not quick enough. SAA will soon begin talks with leasing companies over available A340s, he adds.

SAA needs more widebodies to increase services to London, Frankfurt and São Paulo. It plans to launch Chicago services in April.

SAA will increase its A340 fleet to 24 next year, when three A340-300s subleased to India's Jet Airways are returned, but even a fleet of 32 widebodies will be insufficient. Ngqula says SAA's business has recovered since excess capacity forced it to sublease the A340s in 2005 and in recent months it has seen load factors exceeding 90% on several long-haul routes.

However, despite earlier considering the A380 - through a possible deal either through Airbus or International Lease Finance - Ngqula says SAA is "not looking at it at this point of time".

He said in an interview for a forthcoming issue of Airline Business: "There is a cost of adding a third widebody type. There's uncertainty. We don't want to rely on something that may never fly."

He says SAA requires a larger aircraft only on its London services and believes it can instead grow its Johannesburg-London and Cape Town-London routes by securing additional slots at Heathrow.

He says SAA has just secured slots to support a third daily flight from Johannesburg and is confident it can later secure slots to support a second daily flight from Cape Town.

Another option is to acquire new Boeing 747-8s, but Ngqula prefers going for more A340s. "We are tilted towards the A340s, but we won't write off the 747s," he says. "They've served us very well in the past, but we have very few of them."

South Africa 
© Derek Pedley   

SAA wants to boost its A340/747-400 widebody fleet - but not with A380s

Source: Flight International