Heathrow:SAA sells prime spot

2012-07-17 00:00

CAPE TOWN  — South African Airways (SAA) has sold one of its three exclusive daily landing-time slots at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Landing-time slots for Heathrow are so difficult to acquire that SAA will probably never be able to get this one back.

Sister paper Beeld has heard that the time slot sold is the one used for the regular Cape Town-London flight.

These flights will be discontinued on August 15.

SAA commercial general manager Theunis Potgieter has confirmed the deal.

He would not name the buyer or the price paid for the slot.

“Landing times at … Heathrow operate on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.

“The times are not transferable between airlines and can be either sold or leased out, or they are lost.”

Potgieter said SAA tried to rent out the slot to another airline, and preference was given to other African airlines.

“Unfortunately we were unsuccessful. The result was that SAA put the slot up for sale and an agreement was finally entered into.”

Beeld has been told that a landing-time slot at Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport, is worth R300 million on average. The value of landing times varies according to the time of day. Morning landing times at Heathrow are particularly expensive.

This particular SAA slot, 06:20, is especially sought-after, as it gives business travellers a full day to do business in London.

Experts say waiting lists for landing times are so long that it is no longer possible for an airline to acquire a peak-time landing time like this one through the standard procedures.

The last time Heathrow allocated a new morning slot was in 1997.

Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) CEO Chris Zweigenthal was surprised at news of the deal yesterday. He said South Africa has between 40 and 46 daily frequencies available to fly to Britain. Heathrow can land 44 planes per hour.

“However, up to now there have been only three daily landing slots available for Heathrow.”

Zweigenthal said if SAA ever wanted the slot back it would have to take its place at the back of a very long queue.

John Balfour, a consultant with the British firm Clyde & Co., told Beeld yesterday that sales of Heathrow landing rights are normal.

“Elsewhere in the world landing times are sold in an informal way, but in the EU territory sales are controlled by an EU regulation.”

Balfour said airlines sell the landing times along with all their rights to use the landing time in the future.

Potgieter said SAA still operates two daily flights between Johannesburg and Heathrow.

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