JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s struggling flag carrier flew its first plane since March 2020 on Thursday after emerging from bankruptcy proceedings.
Passengers on the South African Airways (SAA) flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town were greeted on departure by singing and dancing airline staff.
Once Africa’s second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines, SAA had survived for decades on government bailouts and was ceasing routes even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The government agreed in June to sell a 51% stake to a group of investors called the Takatso Consortium, paving the way for a potential injection of $200 million.
Even after a government bailout of more than $500 million and debt restructuring, the airline only emerged from bankruptcy after cutting hundreds of jobs. Of the 600 pilots at the start of the pandemic, 88 were on duty as of Thursday.
In addition to domestic service, which resumed on Thursday, SAA plans to start regional services to Harare, Accra, Kinshasa, Lusaka and Maputo next week.
Chief Financial Officer Fikile Mhlonto said this week the airline’s fleet had grown to six planes from 46 previously.
SAA’s low-cost subsidiary, Mango, remains on the ground and in the process of filing for bankruptcy.