MIAMI – In the wake of financial turmoil, South African Airways (SAA) has announced its plans for the start of what could be gradual fleet renewal.

The carrier has announced that the Airbus A340-600 that operates on the Johannesburg-New York route will be replaced by an A350-900 aircraft.

This frame will be on lease for around three years, according to a statement released by the airline. Delivery is to take place in the second half of this year.

The airline’s CEO, Zukisa Ramasia, said that this aircraft was important to bring the carrier back to stability.

“The introduction of these state-of-the-art aircraft to our fleet is an important step-change as we continue to make progress to transform our business and return the airline to financial sustainability in the shortest time possible,” he said.

“These aircraft present an immediate opportunity to offer an improved product between Johannesburg and New York which will be accompanied by unmatched and consistent customer experience for both Business and Economy Class customers”, he added.

It is understood that the aircraft will be configured in a two-class layout, with 246 seats in Economy. The airline has not disclosed what kind of product will be offered in the Business Class cabin.

Within that economy taking, six rows will offer extra leg-room to provide more comfortable experiences on the longer flights.

“We are proud to offer our customers the latest generation aircraft with a modern product, including a quieter cabin, a more relaxing environment during flight, and the latest in-flight entertainment,” concludes Ramasia.

This new aircraft should help to reduce costs for the airline, especially as the A350 will ax about 20% fuel burn compared to the A340-600 operating the New York rotation.

A Complicated Month For SAA

It has been a rocky month for SAA, spiced up with the sudden resignation of former CEO, Vuyani Jarana.

Following the CEO’s resignation, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), alongside the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA), protested at the major airports of the country, the airline’s headquarters, and its technical centers over “a myriad of issues.”

Such concerns have been the alleged corruption within the management of the carrier, problems in the maintenance arena, allegations of nepotism and tribalism as well as the corruption of the human resources department as well.

It is understood that the finance minister of South Africa, Tito Mboweni, is very reluctant to approve further outlays and actually wants to shut the airline down instead.

Back in October, the carrier received a $342 million bailout to help repay any outstanding loans, but the government has not committed any further, putting the airline, once again, into disrepute.

In 2018, Jarana estimated that around $957 million of funding would be needed to fund the airline until it becomes profitable. The airline has only received half of that amount so far.

Currently, the airline operates a fleet of 47 planes, including Airbus A319, A320, A330-200/300, A340-300/600, and Boeing 737-300 aircraft to more than 50 destinations in partnership with South African Express and its low-cost carrier, Mango.