From Monday, SAA will surrender the bulk of the group’s domestic flights between Johannesburg and Durban and a third of those between Johannesburg and Cape Town to low-cost subsidiary Mango.
This drastic decision was made amid the Steinhoff panic, and it seems from the online flight schedules on both carriers’ websites, that the shift will take about a month. More than 80 returns flights a week are impacted.
SAA said in a lengthy, jargon heavy statement that the group airlines will “rationalise their route network for improved efficiencies and optimal aircraft utilisation through a revised airline brand schedule.”
The Johannesburg to Durban route operates 200 return flights a week – 112 by SAA and 88 by Mango. However, by mid-February, SAA will run just 68 flights on this route, with two-thirds being run by low-cost Mango Airlines.
On the Johannesburg to Cape Town route, the changes are less dramatic but still noticeable. A total of 278 return flights per week, only 162 will be flown by SAA, with Mango running 116 (76 before the change). Although this might not seem drastic, this route is one of the top ten busiest routes in the world.
Chief executive of SAA, Vuyani Jarana told Business Day in December that the airline “had been flying wide-body aircraft from Johannesburg to Cape Town and Durban, when these aircraft were in fact more appropriate for long-haul travel”. These changes are part of cost-containment measures being taken by the airline.
Moneyweb reported in September that the airline was being forced to cut its fleet of (then) 62 aircraft by as much as ten. Jimmy Conroy, chairman of the SAA Pilots Association, told Moneyweb at the time that five leased wide-bodied aircraft would be returned, and four narrow-bodied aircrafts would be transferred to other airlines (i.e. Mango)
It made similar moves in October with the Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg to East London routes, cutting the number of daily fights from four to two and three to two, respectively.
It has also changed the aircraft flown on a number of regional routes, including Mauritius, Luanda and Angola. Other cuts also include the frequency of flights to Kinshasa from five to four per week.
Domestically, the cuts mean that SAA and BA (operated by Comair) operate a similar amount of flights on the Johannesburg to Cape Town route, while on the Johannesburg to Durban route, SAA operates the same amount as Kulula (the second-least number of flights across five carriers!).