South African Airways Airbus A320

SAA’s latest acquisition of two Airbus A320s pumps new lifeblood into its fleet

South African Airway’s initiative to turning around its financial woes began with it securing a contract with Standard Charter Bank to finance half of the airline’s order of 20 Airbus A320s. Two of the 10 A320 aircraft have already been delivered to SAA.

It is hoped that the fuel efficient A320 aircraft, destined for domestic and regional flight routes, will channel the South African airline back into profit making margins. SAA hopes to strengthen its expansion plans in Africa with the aim of being the carrier of choice on the continent.

This first step, in yet another turnaround strategy for SAA, was made possible after the airline secured finance from UK-based Standard Chartered Bank, an influential aviation finance company. The value of the contract between South Africa’s national carrier and Africa’s biggest airline and Standard Chartered Bank remains undisclosed.

Monwabisi Kalawe, recently appointed CEO of SAA said, “The deal will significantly enhance SAA’s domestic and regional growth strategy … the aircraft are central to SAA’s plans to provide an efficient and comprehensive regional route network.”

In addition to its domestic routes, SAA plans on introducing new aircraft on its long-haul routes which has been a major cash drain on the airline’s accounting sheets.

“Our long-term turnaround strategy has identified some big ticket items responsible for our high operating costs. These include high fuel costs as well as the use of fuel-inefficient aircraft. This deal provides the necessary solution by securing a new generation, fuel efficient fleet for us,” said Kalawe.

A melange of contributing factors has been the cause of SAA’s financial woes: exchange rate volatility, a fiercely competitive air travel market and rising fuel costs with fuel bearing the heaviest weight. The duration of most of SAA’s long-haul flights average above six-and-a-half hours. The longer the flight, the more fuel is needed. SAA’s fuel bill saw its operating costs increase by R 2.2bn which resulted in a loss of R 1.25bn in 2012.

“We are delighted to receive our first two A320 aircraft. Operating a modern and homogenous fleet plays a significant role in cost reduction and boosting revenue. The A320 will assist SAA to achieve this while providing our passengers with a more superior cabin product,” said Kalawe. The A 320 aircraft pumps new lifeblood into the airline’s fleet as it retires its aging fleet of Boeings.

The A 320 airplanes boast IAE-V2500 engines and is characterised by a two cabin arrangement which allows for the seating of 24 passengers in business class and 114 in economy.

John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer is equally confident that SAA’s has made the right choice in choosing A320 aircraft to help shed its loss-making reputation. “SAA has long been regarded as a bellwether for Africa on aircraft selection and we are looking forward to expanding our relationship. Our reliable, fuel efficient and comfortable A320s will give SAA a competitive edge and help the airline achieve sustainable profitability,” he said.

Picture Credit:Clement Alloing
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Airbus A350

Airbus A350’s maiden flight

The Airbus A350’s maiden flight in Toulouse marked a milestone in the travel and aviation industries respectively. The successful four-hour flight was crewed by former fighter pilots – two British and French. On board the aircraft were heavy loads of test equipment.

The design and launch of this next-generation Airbus 350 is set to challenge and cut down the American Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner’s hold on the lucrative long-haul market for wide-body aircraft. The A350 sports two impressive Rolls-Royce XWB Trent engines. These highly efficient engines were built exclusively for the A350 and is said to be the “world’s most efficient” engines, each powering out 84,000 lb of thrust.

Wherein then lays the secret to the A350 airbus? Almost three-quarters of the aircraft casing are made up of lightweight carbon-fibre designed to economize on jet fuel. The combination of light weight body, super efficient engine and new aerodynamics allows for the A350 to burn up to 25% less fuel as compared to the Dreamliner. This economy would reduce the cost of long-haul flights up to as much as half the cost.

The aircraft has been in development phase for eight years which is approximated to have cost $15 billion. The A350 will be available in three variants with seating capacities ranging from 270 to 350 passengers in three class layouts.

The A350’s entry into service is scheduled for the latter part of 2014. This is after a delay of about 18 months. Much of the delay is due to the advanced changes in technology and materials. Both the manufacturers of the A350 and the Boeing have used lightweight carbon fibre reinforced plastic instead of the traditional aluminum alloy. The wings of the A350 is said to be the largest for a wide-body aircraft.

Chief executive of EADS, the parent body of Airbus, expressed optimism that the A350 airbus would be delivered to Qatar Airways towards the later part of 2014. The only challenges the parent company foresees is the acquiring of certification and the final run in production stage.

Apart from the launch customer, Qatar Airways which is due to receive 80 of all three variants of A350’s, other customers in line for the A350 include: British Airways and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific. Airbus has already seen over 600 orders for the A350 which speaks of confidence in the new entrant in the long-haul wide-body aircraft market.

Thousands of Airbus employees and aviation devotees who had gathered to witness the landmark flight greeted the touchdown of the A350’s maiden flight with jubilant cheers. The success of the A350’s faultless maiden test flight is revealed in the words of Airbus’s chief test pilot, Peter Chandler, who after piloting the prototype aircraft said: “It just seemed really happy in the air,” and further added, “all the things we were testing had no major issues at all.”