Hilton Tarrant
4 minute read
15 Jan 2018
7:54 am

SAA makes steep cuts to Joburg-CT, Joburg-Durban routes

Hilton Tarrant

After cuts on less-popular domestic routes, the carrier takes a hatchet to its jewels.


From Monday, SAA will effectively 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. The move, announced while the country was leaving the office last year, gripped in Steinhoff panic, won’t happen all at once. It seems, from flight schedules on both carriers’ websites, that the shift will take about in a month. More than 80 return flights a week are impacted.

Although the statement was heavy on jargon (the group airlines will “rationalise their route network for improved efficiencies and optimal aircraft utilisation through a revised airline brand schedule”) and light on detail, the effect on the number of flights being operated by SAA is staggering.

On the Johannesburg to Durban route, both airlines operate 200 return flights a week. SAA flies 112 of those, while Mango operates 88. By mid-February, SAA will run just 68 return flights on this route, with two-thirds being run by its low-cost subsidiary.

On the Joburg to Cape Town route, the changes are less dramatic but still stark. Of the total 278 return flights per week, only 162 will be flown by SAA, with Mango running 116 (from 76 before the change). It must be noted that this route is particularly lucrative, given that it is one of the ten busiest air routes in the world.

New SAA chief executive 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. The chairman of the SAA Pilots Association, Jimmy Conroy, told Moneyweb at the time that five leased wide-bodied aircraft would be returned and four narrow-bodied aircraft would be transferred to other airlines (i.e. Mango).

In October, it made similar moves to what its making this week on its Joburg to Port Elizabeth and Joburg to East London routes, cutting the number of daily SAA flights from four to two and three to two, respectively (it seems there has since been a further cut to the East London route).

It has also changed the aircraft flown on a number of regional routes, including Mauritius (narrow to wide, but with a cut to nine from 11 flights per week) and Luanda, Angola (wide to narrow, seven to four flights per week). Other cuts to frequencies have been made, such as Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) from five to four flights per week.

In September, SAA stated that “flights to Brazzaville, Pointe Noir [Republic of Congo] and Libreville [Gabon] with connections onward to Cotonou and Douala are under review”. Moneyweb had reported in August that these flights would be cancelled. While SAA did not announce these cancellations formally after the review notice, the airline no longer flies to these destinations.

Domestically, the cuts mean that SAA and BA (operated by Comair) operate a similar amount of flights on the Joburg to Cape Town route, while on the Joburg to Durban route, SAA operates the same amount as Kulula (the second-least number of flights across five carriers!).

Source: Airline websites, author’s calculations. Note: These are normalised schedules. In peak periods, additional flights are operated by all airlines.

It has been reported that SAA was planning on cutting some 700 monthly flights, equating to about 17% of its capacity. These domestic cuts equate to more than half (±360) of this previously reported monthly total.

The airlines operate via a code-share agreement, meaning that SAA customers are able to book either SAA or Mango flights via the carrier’s various channels, including travel agents. This has been in place on all of Mango’s routes for some time (it started with the ceding of the Durban-Cape Town route in its entirety to the low-cost airline) and will simply be extended to include the additional flights.

Hilton Tarrant works at immedia. He can still be contacted at hilton@moneyweb.co.za.

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