SAA’s strange new route raises questions

South African Airways (SAA) recently announced a new route to São Paulo, Brazil – a move that has left some industry insiders questioning the motive behind it.

In June 2023, SAA announced the airline’s first intercontinental route to São Paulo, Brazil. SAA flies to Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo four times a week, twice out of Cape Town and twice out of Johannesburg.

SAA’s interim chair Derek Hanekom, told Biznews that the airline currently has seven aircraft and will soon be leasing additional aircraft to bring the fleet up to 13.

The airline has 13 routes – two domestic routes, ten regional routes, and the intercontinental Brazil route.

Hanekom said SAA eventually plans to have 20 routes, two of which will be intercontinental, and the Brazil route is part of the airline’s long-term plan.

When the Brazil route was announced, SAA interim CEO Professor John Lamola said, “We are overjoyed to announce São Paulo as our first international destination since the airline successfully emerged from an intensive Business Rescue process and Covid-19 lockdown.” 

“Our decision to relaunch our long-haul service with São Paulo was based on a rigorous analysis of the route’s viability. Since our restart, sustainability has been at the heart of SAA’s approach.”

However, Cemair founder and CEO Miles van der Molen told Biznews that he struggles to understand why SAA decided on this route.

He believes a destination like Perth, Australia, would have been a higher priority considering the high South African population and the fact that there are few direct routes from the country.

Van der Molen acknowledged that one reason for choosing Brazil could be that there is no connectivity with South America from South Africa.

In addition, competing with established players in the US and European markets would be very difficult.

However, he said that, traditionally, SAA has made decisions largely on political grounds.

“We’ve seen that, and it’s quite likely that this is one of those as well,” he said. 

“But it’s early days for that route, so it would be difficult to assess whether or not they’ll get the following that they hoped for and need to make it sustainable.”

He added that it is an expensive route to run, “so certainly, the stakes are high”.

Daily Investor reached out to SAA for comment and was referred to the press release for the launch of the route.


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