Emirates planes out of Johannesburg to Dubai are always packed when I fly with them, from business class to the back of the plane, and they fly out multiple times a day. British Airways is the same story, with flights taking off out of Cape Town and Johannesburg to London regularly.
The routes are money-spinners for the global players, and they also reveal how the capture of SAA has impacted the ambitions of what used to be a great African airline, which has been crashed by greed and malfeasance.
In the era of former President Thabo Mbeki, SAA had a plan to be the leading pan-African airline, and to connect the rest of the continent with the globe. While South Africa is at the southern point of Africa, its infrastructure meant it had a justifiable hope of being a connector hub for intra-African trade and a staging post for air traffic from China, Europe and the Americas.
But stats out this week from the consultancy OAG Aviation, published in The Africa Report, show how those hopes have been dashed.
The most profitable route on the continent is now run by Emirates (Johannesburg to Dubai), even though the airline runs the oldest and most dated parts of its fleet on the route. (I recently travelled from Johannesburg to Athens with Emirates and it flew a near empty A380 from Dubai to Athens. You’ll hardly find that plane on the much more lucrative flights out of SA.)
British Airways runs the second-most profitable route in Africa (Johannesburg to London) and its Cape Town to London route is also among the top-10 money-spinners. Emirates flights from Cape Town to Dubai are also in the top 10.
Ethiopian Airlines is quickly catching up and it won’t be long before it gets into the top 10, from which SAA has been turfed. It is no longer even a regional player as the stop-start operations of SA Express revealed this week.
You can’t blame the slide of SAA out of the top 10 on fuel prices because these evenly affect all airlines, and the local airline has always received some subsidy if you think government support is the main tailwind beneath Emirates wings.
Instead, blame it on state capture, and if we want to get personal, on the era of Dudu Myeni, who was the hapless but avaricious chairperson of SAA for far too long.
The chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation was catapulted to the top of SAA, a position to which she was wholly unsuited, by her pal.
She brought trailing in her wake a little known (and likely bent) consultant who proceeded to try and rewrite airline procurement – from planes to apron services to catering and anything else – so Myeni could introduce a crony and probably get a massive kickback.
It’s all coming out at the Zondo commission of inquiry.
Myeni ran the airline into the ground but it’s unlikely she will ever have to account for this as it is small fry compared with the big capture.
The implications of that are clear in the aviation statistics released this week: SAA’s ambitions to become a leading world airline were firmly within reach, given the size of the market and the demand for flights, but those plans lie like debris strewn.
The gap has been filled by Emirates, the well-run airline owned by the UAE, and by British Airways, both of whom are making a killing as they take up SAA’s lost ground and lost markets.