South Africa’s national carrier, SAA, has indicated that it may reintroduce some of its international routes once it’s a “viable and sustainable” airline again and it may even investigate opening up other routes.

This was the message from SAA VP: Commercial, Manish Raniga, at a trade and media conference held at Meetings Africa 2020 in Johannesburg today (Tuesday) to provide an update on the commercial operations during the business rescue process.

He referred to the business rescue – formally implemented on December 5 last year – as the “biggest shake-up in the airline’s 86-year history but added that the SAA brand and product intended to stick around at least for the next 86 years.

Furthermore, the São Paulo and Munich routes – which were both scheduled to be cut by February 29 – will now be extended to March 31 and April 21 respectively. According to Raniga, the last flight will depart Munich on April 20 to land in Johannesburg on April 21.

He told Tourism Update on the side lines that there were no plans – within the next six months to a year – to reinstate the Hong Kong route, noting that, although it was one of the most profitable routes in the past, it had not fared well due to unrest last year and now the outbreak of the coronavirus which had impacted heavily on any travel outside of Asia.

Raniga however echoed the Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane’s sentiments that the Chinese market, in terms of leisure, business and MICE travel, remained a strong market for South Africa and that the reinstatement of this, and other Asian route could not be completely ruled out in future.

“Meanwhile, we have been able to provide access to and from key source markets through our Star Alliance partnerships,” said Raniga, adding that the Frankfurt and London routes still offered a gateway to Europe, while the Accra and Lagos routes also offered gateways to West Africa.

Kubayi-Ngubane said in response to SAA’s announcements that she was encouraged by the fact that they still had options on their permits and slots. “I take this as a good sign that the national carrier will still be bringing tourists to our country,” she said.

She added that she was also open to engaging with other international airlines who would be open to filling the slots and enabling them to fast-track the process of introducing new routes.

Meanwhile, the business rescue practitioners hope to release their report soon. Raniga expressed confidence that there would be no further international route cuts as part of the business rescue recommendations. “We hope, and certainly expect, that there will no further cuts,” he related.