SAA: Selling of aircraft has nothing to do with business rescue - we're accommodating a new fleet

South African Airways' decision to sell some of its aircraft has nothing to do with the voluntary business rescue process it is currently in, the financially embattled state-owned airline said on Thursday.

In a statement, it said it has, for some time, planned to replace its four-engine aircraft with two-engine ones. It has, therefore, put some of its aircraft up for sale to accommodate the new Airbus A350-900s the airline recently added to its fleet.

The latest SAA statement followed earlier media reports about SAA soliciting bids for nine of its Airbus A340 aircraft.

Business Insider reported that, in total, the planes would come to around R37bn if bought new today. Second-hand prices, however, are dependent on factors like the number of hours flown as well as the demand that exists. 

The aircraft on sale used to operate on regional and international routes, which will now be flown by the A330s and A350-900s, according to SAA.

In a tender on the airline's website, SAA said it was selling nine wide-body aircraft - five Airbus A340-300s and four Airbus A340-600s - and 15 spare engines and four Auxiliary Power Units, a device used to provide energy.

The statement comes amid concerns that the airline could soon cease to exist in its current form, as it faces an urgent shortage of funds it needs in order to continue operating.

At the beginning of November 2019, when SAA had not gone into business rescue yet, Fin24 reported on the first of the four Airbus A350-900 planes being delivered to SAA, with all four planes expected to operate commercially by mid-December.

Two of the aircraft are nine months old and previously flew commercially with another carrier. The other two aircraft are brand-new and sub-leased from Air Mauritius. These new-generation aircraft boast fuel-efficiency of up to 20% less than the aircraft they replaced, translating into significant cost savings.

"After we received the four new Airbus A350-900, it has become necessary for us to sell our older models to accommodate the new models with superior features such as the quieter cabin, relaxing in-flight environment and more extra-legroom seats in economy class and lie-flat beds in business class," Zuks Ramasia, SAA's acting CEO, said in the statement released late on Thursday afternoon.

"When we received five A330-300s in late 2017 to early 2018, we had already planned to retire five A340s at that time, but due to the operational fleet undergoing maintenance, the retirement of the aircraft was postponed. Now is the time to sell the aircraft."

Ramasia added: "The decision to sell the aircraft has nothing to do with the business rescue process. For some time we had planned to replace our four-engine aircraft with the two-engine ones."

Earlier in the day, business rescue practitioners Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana had issued a statement on the sale of the aircrafts as well as the spare engines and auxiliary power units. The BRPs confirmed that the process to phase out older aircraft started prior to the business rescue process, but said it was "held up due to various reasons". They added that it was "fast-tracked once SAA went into business rescue". 

"The sale proceeds of these planes would not fall within the R2bn funding requirement that is being sought from government," the statement added.

Ramasia said the new A350s were intended to start operating on the international route next week, which made replacement of the A340s possible. 

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