SAA suspends all regional and international flights due to coronavirus

SAA resumes flights to Mauritius next month. Image via: flickr (Paul Scott)

SAA needs new aircraft before it can resume several routes

Things look good for South African Airways ahead of its imminent relaunch…but the airline is unlikely to resume intercontinental routes with its existing fleet.

SAA suspends all regional and international flights due to coronavirus

SAA resumes flights to Mauritius next month. Image via: flickr (Paul Scott)

South African Airways (SAA) is set to resume scheduled passenger flights next week after an extended absence of almost 18 months.

The airline was grounded last March, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. SAA then encountered a turbulent business rescue process which it only exited in April this year.


The airline once operated flights to several domestic, regional, and international destinations. The transformed version of South Africa’s national carrier will recommence operations on 23 September serving just a fraction of the destinations in its former route network. 

The airline is scheduled to operate flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, plus between Johannesburg and a few African destinations including Accra (Ghana), Kinshasa (DR Congo), Harare (Zimbabwe), Lusaka (Zambia) and Maputo (Mozambique).

As yet, there are no plans for the airline to operate intercontinental flights. Travel bans, border closures and a slump in demand as a result of the pandemic have led to a lack of demand for flights from many of the destinations in SAA’s former route network which included London, Frankfurt, New York, Washington, Hong Kong and Perth.  


SAA currently has a fleet consisting of eight passenger aircraft. Ch-aviation reported that South African Airways’ current fleet is made up of five narrow-body Airbus A320-series aircraft, an A330 wide-body jet and two four-engine A340 aircraft.

Just months ahead of its grounding last year SAA had acquired 4 modern fuel-efficient Airbus A350 aircraft which were deployed on many of the carrier’s intercontinental routes that were previously served by SAA’s gas-guzzling Airbus A340s.

The new Airbus A350 aircraft were returned to aircraft lessors during the SAA business rescue process, leaving South African Airways with the older less fuel-efficient A340 aircraft that it owns.  


Interim Chief Executive Officer Thomas Kgokolo, says that South African Airways needs a more modern fleet to be competitive on flight routes outside of Africa, according to Mybroadband. It would be imprudent for the airline to restart operations on long-haul routes with aircraft that are not fuel-efficient.    

“If we get the right fleet for those particular trips we should be able to minimize costs and become competitive,” Kgokolo said.


South African Airways has traditionally seen high demand on its African flight routes. Kgokolo said this was due to fewer competitors operating flights on routes served by SAA.

Kgokolo said that early booking figures indicate that SAA’s flights may be as much as 75% full.