SAA returns to Perth with ambitions for growth

Emma KellyThe West Australian
South African Airways’ first relaunched direct flight from Johannesburg to Perth travelled on Tuesday.
Camera IconSouth African Airways’ first relaunched direct flight from Johannesburg to Perth travelled on Tuesday. Credit: Supplied

South African Airways relaunched flights linking Johannesburg and Perth on April 29 after a four-year absence from the route. The airline is already eyeing increased frequencies this year to meet expected strong demand.

The SAA Airbus A340-300 landed in Perth slightly delayed on Tuesday afternoon, with flights on the return leg resuming that night.

The airline is initially operating the route three times weekly, but chief commercial officer Tebogo Tsimane tells The West Australian that forward bookings are looking good and the airline hopes to be flying five times a week by October, although expansion of services depends on sourcing additional aircraft.

The partnership with SAA is one of Perth Airport’s oldest and most enduring, going back to 1967, says Perth Airport CEO Jason Waters. The route was then served by a Douglas DC-7 and took 21 hours, stopping at Mauritius and the Cocos Islands. Today’s direct flight takes approximately 10 hours on the A340-300, configured with 253 seats (38 business class and 215 economy class).

Relaunch of the route was made possible through the WA Government’s $75 million Aviation Recovery Fund, which is designed to attract airlines back to WA, help develop new routes and increase capacity on existing routes. Johannesburg is the 19th international destination to be served with direct links since the pandemic.

With some 49,000 South African expats in WA, the direct service is expected to be well supported, cutting by half the travel time of alternative routings, says Meredith Hammat MLA, Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Premier.

SAA chief executive officer Professor John Lamola, who was on the inaugural flight to Perth, said it was “an incredibly important day for SAA”, marking a significant milestone in the airline’s recovery journey. SAA operated its last flight from Perth on March 17, 2020 and suspended all services in September 2020. The State-owned carrier underwent a reorganisation under bankruptcy protection and new management, with a much smaller airline relaunching domestic and pan-African services in September 2021. Its first intercontinental service to Sao Paulo, Brazil, was added last October, served twice weekly from both Johannesburg and Cape Town.

“Perth is our second intercontinental route to be relaunched after Sao Paulo. It signals the strategic importance to our growth and expansion plans. Additionally, Perth holds a special place in the hearts of many South Africans, with strong family and business ties in the city, and we are excited to make our contribution to the rekindling and strengthening of these ties,” says Professor Lamola, adding that there are “big, unexplored (tourism) opportunities” between South Africa and Australia.

“SAA now offers the most direct route across the Southern Hemisphere, from Sao Paulo to Perth and back through Johannesburg. This opens up South Africa and Australia to tourists and business travellers from Latin America, boosting the regional economies and growing the brands of both countries,” he says.

Further intercontinental expansion by SAA has been affected by the collapse of a deal for the Takatso Consortium to take a 51 per cent stake in the airline, with the Star Alliance member airline now adopting a measured growth plan moving forward. Before COVID, SAA’s intercontinental network included London, New York, Munich and Frankfurt.

“There may be a third intercontinental route in the offing,” reveals Tsimane, stressing the airline will only commit to what is financially viable.

SAA hopes to increase weekly frequencies to Sao Paulo to four each from Johannesburg and Cape Town in October, as well as additional services in Africa.

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