Licensing council cancels some of SAA's unused flight frequencies

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 After deliberations in September, the council decided to cancel some additional frequencies which SAA does not currently use.
After deliberations in September, the council decided to cancel some additional frequencies which SAA does not currently use.
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  • The International Air Services Council has cancelled some flight frequencies of SAA because they have not been used.
  • After deliberations in September, the council decided to cancel some additional frequencies to Harare in Zimbabwe, Kinshasha in the DRC, Mauritius, Lagos in Nigeria, Accra in Ghana, Lusaka in Zambia, and Luanda in Angola.
  • Although SAA is not currently operating flights to Washington, DC and New York in the US, Frankfurt in Germany, Perth in Australia, London in the UK, and Sao Paulo in Brazil, the council has not cancelled any frequencies on these routes at the request of SAA.
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The International Air Services Council (IASC) has cancelled some flight frequencies of South African Airways (SAA), because they have not been used.

Frequencies are the number of times an airline flies on a specific route over a certain period, for example each week.

The council falls under the Department of Transport and is mandated under the International Air Services Licensing Act, which regulates and controls international air services in SA. The act stipulates that air services on a licensed route cannot be interrupted for longer than three months or an alternative period determined by the council.

SAA went into business rescue in December 2019. When the Covid-19 lockdowns were imposed and the rescue practitioners could not get more funding from the government at that time, all flights were halted. SAA came out of business rescue in April 2021 and restarted commercial flights on a much smaller scale a year ago. 

Correspondence between the IASC and SAA, seen by News24 Business, indicates that various engagements took place about a request by SAA for extensions to commence, partly commence, or increase with certain frequencies.

As motivation for its request for extensions, SAA informed the council that the process of finalising a strategic equity partnership (SEP) with the Takatso Consortium is still underway. Regulatory approvals, including of the Competition Commission, are still needed. The market has also not recovered completely after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Investment firm Harith and Global Airways, owner of the LIFT airline, are the Takatso partners. Takatso is expected to provide much-needed capital for the airline's continued operations - to the tune of R3 billion over two years.

Takatso is expected to implement its own business plan, including capitalisation for the restart of international, regional and domestic traffic rights historically held by SAA. The latest indication given to Parliament by SAA's shareholder, the Department of Public Enterprises, is that the deal could be finalised by March next year.

After deliberations in September, the council decided to cancel some additional frequencies which SAA does not currently use to Harare in Zimbabwe, Kinshasha in the DRC, Mauritius, Lagos in Nigeria, Accra in Ghana, Lusaka in Zambia, and Luanda in Angola.

SAA does not currently operate flights on routes to Nairobi in Kenya, Lilongwe and Blantyre in Malawi, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Windhoek in Namibia, Entebbe in Uganda, Livingstone in Zambia, Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Maputo in Mozambique, Abuja in Nigeria, and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. SAA has indicated in the past that it intends to once again fly on these routes in future.

The council has cancelled frequencies on all these routes except to Dar es Salaam, Abuja, Maputo, and Abidjan.

Although SAA is not currently operating flights to Washington, DC and New York in the US, Frankfurt in Germany, Perth in Australia, London in the UK, and Sao Paulo in Brazil, the council has not cancelled any frequencies on these routes at the request of SAA.

Domestic routes

In mid-August this year, the Air Services Licensing Council, which deals with domestic routes in SA and also falls under the Department of Transport, gave SAA 90 days to address what it regards as breaches of aviation law. This includes providing more information about the Takatso deal and management changes - or risk losing its air service licences.

Due to increased demand, SAA has deployed additional services on its route between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

SAA recently told News24 Business that government officials are working out exactly how much money the airline still needs from National Treasury in order to settle legacy debt still due in terms of the business rescue plan. Takatso, chosen as SAA's strategic equity partner already more than a year ago, is not prepared to take on any of the airline's legacy debt.

It remains to be seen whether Treasury will allocate SAA the about R3.5 billion still needed to complete the implementation of the rescue plan and clear away one more step towards finalising the Takatso deal. Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana will table his Medium-term Budget Policy Statement in Parliament on 26 October.

UPDATE: SAA confirmed on Thursday evening that it has indeed not lost any of its route rights. It has made presentations to the council about the decision regarding frequencies on certain routes not currently being used by SAA.

SAA continues to operate its current network and schedule with six regional and three domestic destinations. The six regional routes are to Accra, Harare, Kinshasa, Lagos, Lusaka and Mauritius and the three domestic destinations are Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

To meet demand, it has deployed additional capacity on the Cape Town and Harare routes and has started expanding its fleet with the aim of resuming full regional and international services in the future.

* This article was updated with comment by SAA on Thursday at 19:00.

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