BEIJING – National flag carrier South African Airways’ (SAA’s) thrice-a-week Johannesburg–Beijing service, which was introduced in February, had already achieved an average load rate of 65% a flight, but this was expected to increase to 85% in the not-too-distant future.
“This is a new service and we are very happy with 65%,” SAA GM: commercial Theunis Potgieter told members of the South African media corps in Beijing last week on the sidelines of the sixty-eighth annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association (Iata).
Passengers flying from Johannesburg to Beijing comprised not only South Africans, but also those emanating from the rest of the African continent, with Angolans strongly represented in this category.
In the main, it was businesspeople making use of the new service, said Potgieter, adding that the number of people travelling for tourism purposes was very low and that efforts were being made to attract more tourist travellers. This included supporting South African travel agents undertaking promotional missions to China and bringing their Chinese counterparts to South Africa.
“A lot still needs to be done on the tourism side, and we are spending a lot of money on this,” he said.
In the long term, SAA hoped to extend the Johannesburg–Beijing service to other destinations in China, including Shanghai.
The introduction of a daily service was also under consideration, but Potgieter said he did not see this happening in less than three years.
SAA already operated a daily long-haul service to Hong Kong, a regional hub connecting Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
Responding to a question from Engineering News Online, Potgieter said that, in the longer term, SAA could introduce more long-haul destinations to the east or the west of South Africa, including South America.
He noted that Brazilians flying to China a fortnight ago, after catching a connecting flight at OR Tambo International Airport, had remarked about the comfort of SAA’s long-haul aircraft, which, they said, was far superior to that offered by many other airlines. “As SAA, we do offer comfort – 180° reclining seats, for example; this is our strong point,” he concluded.
* Martin Zhuwakinyu was in Beijing as guest of SAA and Iata