South African Airways pulls the plug on Perth-Johannesburg

SAA makes an unsurprising exit from Australia, and the rest of the world.

By David Flynn, March 21 2020
South African Airways pulls the plug on Perth-Johannesburg

South African Airways has axed all international flights, including its daily service between Perth and Johannesburg, in response to a government travel ban aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

The cancellations take "immediate effect", the airline says, and will last until 31 May 2020, although an extension of that can't be ruled out.

SAA's sole remaining route will be a domestic shuttle between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

However, there is already speculation that the embattled airline – beset by financial woes long before the outbreak of Covid-19 – might never return to Perth.

South Africa’s government placed SAA into a local form of bankruptcy protection late last year, a move designed to end a cycle of state bailouts and mounting losses, and last month made US$1 billion available to the carrier to help service debt while a turnaround plan was developed.

Routes were already being cut before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic, with South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni stating that the government’s aim is to turn the national flag-carrier into “a sustainable airline that is not a burden" rather than close it down.

Qantas has long eyed the Perth-Johannesburg route, with Executive Traveller revealing in April 2018 the airline's plans to launch a direct flight running four times a week on an Airbus A330 jet, alongside its long-established Sydney-Johannesburg Boeing 747 service.

Qantas later confirmed its intentions, saying it would begin with "a seasonal service" from November 2018 to test the waters, but later scrapped those plans due to an ongoing stoush with Perth Airport over which terminal the service would use.

Perth Airport had insisted that Qantas use the main international T1 terminal for the seasonal service to South Africa, while Qantas wanted to run the flights from the newly-developed international wing of its T3 terminal, which is also used by the airline's Boeing 787 flights to London as well as a daily service to Singapore, as well as streamlining connections for Qantas' domestic passengers.

"We had planned to operate a seasonal service this November to March, which would have put about 4,000 passengers a week through Perth," Alison Webster, then-CEO of Qantas International, told Executive Traveller in June 2018.

"We couldn’t operate it through Terminal 3 where the aircraft would in fact come in (from a domestic flight) and turn around, and towing (from T1) would make it completely logistically not okay."


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 477

Well done Perth Airport - looks like you're a winner winner chicken dinner...

How do ya' like them apples

The article is a bit misleading. Let's not forget every airline is facing a survival battle. In the context of Australia, Qantas is in some trouble and even more trouble will be for Virgin Australia. Some facts which the article failed to present. South African Airways(SAA) is in financial trouble owing to the corrupt former CEO. The quality of its services have never dipped. Similar to what Australian carriers face, being on the edge of a continent SAA does not have incoming traffic to funnel through its hub. As part of the business rescue process, the fleet size was reduced without affecting the total number of seat by bring larger A359s (4 No.s). Most of SAA fleet is leased(except 3x A340s). Now COVID-19 temporary flight ban gives them an opportunity to return the leased planes and renegotiate better. Other major airlines who owned most of their will have a problem because their planes are to be kept in storage and their asset is not bring money. The article has projected the flight ban as a permanent axeing of the Perth schedule. Not in any of the SAA communications have such a word being mentioned. The author should have kept his prejudice with himself rather than splattering in with words.

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