THE Department of Transport says it is “looking closely” at South African Airways’ (SAA’s) investment in aircraft as it wants African airlines to dominate Africa’s air space.
SAA’s procurement of aircraft has been mired in controversy in recent years. In 2105, the Treasury turned down a proposal from the airline’s board to restructure a refleeting transaction with Airbus.
The department’s comment comes as Ethiopian Airlines on Friday landed the first of 14 new Airbus A350 aircraft at OR Tambo International Airport.
Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s biggest and fastest-growing airline, is the first to have purchased these aircraft on the continent. It spent more than $2bn on the deal, which includes other smaller aircraft.
Regional manager Abel Alemu said the aircraft had been purchased as part of its strategy to stay competitive in the aviation market.
He said the Airbus A350 had new technology and was 25% more fuel efficient than other aircraft.
“One part of that strategy is fleet management, because when it comes to the aviation industry, aircraft is the major factor. If you have an efficient aircraft, it will contribute to costs and customer comfort,” said Alemu.
He said Ethiopian Airlines was 100% owned by the Ethiopian government, but run by professionals appointed by a board.
The airline flies to 92 destinations around the world and 52 in Africa.
The airline recorded a $148m profit in the year ended June 2015.
The Department of Transport’s acting deputy director-general, Johan Bierman, said Ethiopian Airlines’ investment meant African airlines would take up space in the continent’s aviation market instead of airlines from outside the continent.
The AU Commission aims to establish a single African air transport market by 2017, but implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration, signed in 1999 to effect this, has been slow. African states prefer to sign bilateral agreements with Middle-Eastern and European states instead of opening their airline markets to regional competition.
“There is no use in having a single African sky if you don’t have any aircraft to actually fly in it,” said Bierman. “We are looking at Kenya Airways in that regard. We are also looking closely at our own airline, SAA, to see what they can come up with. We are positive that we could (make this kind of investment) although that is not within the Department of Transport’s mandate,” he said.