There are still no clear timelines for when South African Airways (SAA) will begin flying again, despite plans to find an equity partner and exit business rescue in the coming weeks.
An update from the failed airline, published on its website, notes that significant obstacles are still blocking it way back to the skies – the biggest of which is that international air travel is still conditional, with many countries battling with fluctuating rates of Covid-19 infection and/or new waves of infection.
For now, this has necessitated that all domestic and regional SAA-operated flights are suspended until at least 30 April 2021. It added that all SAA-operated international flights are suspended even later – until 30 October 2021.
The airline said that because there is greatly reduced demand for flying, it will only use its ‘marketing flight numbers’, or codeshare agreements for the time being.
“Although South Africa is travel-ready, demand for domestic air travel has been significantly reduced, therefore to avoid over-capacity and to ensure commercial viability, SAA has taken the decision to only operate our marketing (SA) flight numbers.
“We are delighted that the South African Airways code is available for booking on the domestic route network as our subsidiary low-cost carrier Mango continues to operate,” it said.
In February, Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said that Government has identified three equity partners for South African Airways (SAA) and will make a decision on which one to pick in the next month
In an interview with Bloomberg, Gordhan said that the interim SAA board is engaging with the candidates before the government makes its recommendation.
South Africa’s search for a partner comes at a time when the aviation industry is mired in the biggest crisis in its history, having been laid low by the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the partners which has previously mooted is Ethiopian Airlines which has been in active discussions with the South African government about a deal.
In October 2020, Ethiopian Airlines said that it was willing to provide “planes, pilots and maintenance services” to ailing SAA as part of a joint venture. However, it said that it was hesitant about taking on SAA’s debt.
SAA has been unprofitable for almost a decade, surviving on state bailouts and government debt guarantees, and was placed under administration a year ago.
The carrier has been lying dormant since March 2020, when the fleet was grounded due to travel bans to contain the coronavirus.