JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — On the heels of restructuring, South African Airways plans for fleet expansion and return to intercontinental routes.

South African Airways (SAA), now restructured, anticipates a broader expansion of its fleet once its strategic investor comes on board. The airline is preparing to restart international widebody flights by the end of this year.

SAA recommenced flights in September 2021 after an 18-month hiatus due to its business restructuring and the travel restrictions caused by the Covid crisis. The airline's initial route network has primarily concentrated on regional services within Africa. It had initially intended to restart intercontinental flights this summer.

However, "Due to issues with aircraft availability, we had to delay our plans by a few months," said SAA CEO John Lamola in an interview at the IATA AGM in Istanbul. The aim is to launch two intercontinental routes by year's end, beginning with flights to Perth and Sao Paulo – both locations it served before the pandemic.

In May, SAA confirmed it had received authorization from the South African public enterprises ministry, the airline's owner, to lease six additional Airbus aircraft, including an already secured A330 widebody.

Securing aircraft has been challenging during this period, Lamola admitted, as the northern hemisphere's high season has all of SAA's lessors and aircraft providers occupied. SAA is currently seeking six aircraft on dry-lease and has initiated talks with alliance partners to aid in securing these aircraft.

The airline has plans to double its fleet to 26 aircraft, including four widebodies, in the near term. Lamola suggested the possibility of reinstating its London Heathrow route as soon as more long-haul capacity is available. He described it as a "strategic and profitable route," pending market conditions and aircraft availability.

"We have a fleet plan rolling out next year, which includes ordering aircraft from OEMs," said Lamola. "The goal is to scale South African Airways from 28 to about 50 aircraft in the next two to three years."

This expansion will be facilitated by the Takatso consortium's acquisition of a 51% stake in SAA, a deal set to be cleared by the country's competition regulators. Although the sale process has been lengthy and difficult, Lamola expressed excitement over having a strategic equity partner by early next year that will inject significant capital into the business, enabling SAA to grow and scale into a considerable airline.