SAA faces new competitors

South African Airways (SAA) is facing two new challenges: One in its regional market and another on its United States routes, Business Report said on Wednesday.

United States airline Delta, which ended SAA’s monopoly of direct flights from South Africa to the US by starting a successful daily service between Johannesburg and Atlanta late last year, will start a new non-stop service between Cape Town and New York on June 4.

Delta reports passenger loads of more than 80%.

Like the Atlanta route, it will have a refuelling stop in Dakar. Regional general manager Jimmy Eichelgruen said both services will be timed so that passengers from Cape Town can change to the Atlanta flight in Dakar, while those from Johannesburg can switch to the one bound for New York.

The service fills a gap left by the withdrawal of SAA’s service to Miami from Cape Town seven years ago. The national carrier broke off a long-standing code share agreement with American Airlines in favour of one with Delta, switching the service from American Airlines’ hub in Miami to Delta’s in Atlanta.

The withdrawal drew furious objections from business and leisure travellers in Cape Town.

As a result of the protests, SAA started some of the Atlanta flights from Cape Town.

Cape Town was later dropped despite complaints that this would harm attempts to grow the inbound tourism market from the US, and since then all SAA’s flights to the US have embarked from Johannesburg.

The other challenge SAA faces comes from British conglomerate Lonrho, which has returned to Africa with investments in several sectors, including aviation. This brings it into potential conflict with SAA, as both are building route networks connecting regional destinations.

Lonrho announced on Tuesday that it had signed an agreement to establish its regional airline, Fly540 — which has now become the second-largest in Kenya — in Angola.

Lonrho’s chief executive, David Lenigas, said this was ”a further step in establishing Fly540 as an integrated pan-African regional carrier of international standards”.

”We expect Fly540 to be flying in seven countries by the end of 2008.” – Sapa

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