South African Airways (SAA), is celebrating 20 years of non-stop operations between Johannesburg and Africa’s most populous city, Lagos, Nigeria.
Operations commenced on December 4, 1998 as SAA launched its first flight into Nigeria soon after the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between the two countries had been signed. It is also estimated that the airline has airlifted over 3 million passengers from inception. And has brought several aircraft onto this route. From the initial Airbus 300 series, which had to make a technical stop en-route in Luanda, to the Boeing 767 and the B747-400 and the Airbus A340–600, which was then replaced by the current state of the art Airbus A330-300 aircraft, it only got better.
Speaking in Lagos to celebrate the giant achievement by the airline, Group CEO of SAA, Vuyani Jarani, said the Nigeria/South Africa bilateral agreements had aided ease of movement of goods and people between both countries.
Jarani said SAA does not have a direct flight from Nigeria to the US but has a robust and efficient e-commerce platform for the Nigerian market.
Stating that they were working with the authorities for ease of visa procurement, Jarani said: “Nigeria/South Africa Chamber of Commerce have been partners for 20 years. We worked with them in terms of visa. Nigeria is a market that is profitable but we don’t take that for granted.”
On efforts made to bring back the SAA back to profitability, the CEO said: “In recent years, we have gone through difficult times but there are strategies developed to turn it around. We are coming with a new management and they are turning around the airline. We haven’t lacked strategy but it is execution and implementation that are the problems. We will continue to grow the willingness to execute these strategies. We are balancing scale and profitability.”
He therefore, assured that it would take them three years to return to profitability and that was from 2018 to 2021.
In his remark, SAA regional manager, Middle East, Africa, Aaron Munetsi, pointed out that there were challenges peculiar with the Nigerian market, which include fuel, visa and other factors.
Apart from fuel, Munetsi said, some environments were monopolistic, adding that there was the need for central African market policy that should be able to address issues of monopolists in any market that they were not able to operate effectively.
“We pay for fuel much less in the US than we pay in some oil producing African countries,” Munetsi observed.