Ethiopian offers South African a way forward

The only A346 still operating

This is possibly one of the most important things that could have happened in African aviation.

There are only six airlines of any meaningful size out of the 42 countries in the whole of Africa. The largest by far is Ethiopian. There’s Kenyan, EgyptAir, South African, Royal Air Maroc, and Taag Angola.

The most impoverished is South African, which is on the point of bankruptcy, barely functioning and frankly desperate. The government has left it in limbo, as managers and staff argue with unions over its future, and they in turn with the government who resist funding it any further, largely out of fear the money will just be wasted.

Currently it operates just one A340-600, ZS-SNG, and one A320, ZS-SZJ and only has 16 aircraft left in its entire fleet. 3 A319’s, 2 A320’s, 2 733, 1 A333, 4 A343’s and 4 A346’s.

Ethiopian has offered to supply South African Airways with aircraft and qualified pilots, as well as maintenance, all as part of a joint venture with the South African Government.

The only A320 still operating

What Ethiopian has made clear is that it has no intention of offering restructuring or debt repayment help, that is absolutely not on their agenda.

Ethiopian is willing to supply A350’s and 787’s. SAA had to return and mothball its recently sub-leased A350’s. It still sits on a legacy of expensive to run A340’s.

South Africa’s government faces a bill of US$600 million to put the airline back into service. They need that much to pay refunds and pay off the 4,000 staff they need to lay off permanently.

So where will this end up? South Africa is a very proud nation but its management of its airline has been shambolic, rife with deception, corruption and political interference. If it cannot break that cycle and move on, it really has no future. However the idea that a nation as relatively wealthy, industrialised and populated as South Africa, doesn’t have its own airline and becomes reliant of the likes of Emirates, Ethiopian, BA, Virgin and Lufthansa to serve it, is simply incomprehensible.