SAA to increase Nigeria flights, exits Malawi

15th April 2003

South African Airways (SAA) said it wanted to increase its flights to Nigeria to daily from three times a week, but had pulled out of talks on a role in Air Malawi.

"We chickened out of Malawi. We are no longer pursuing the question of a role in Air Malawi," Rich Mkhondo, SAA's executive manager for corporate communications, told Reuters.

"But we do want to increase the frequency of our flights to Nigeria to every day from three times a week now. We shall pursue talks with the authorities on the subject after the elections," he added on the sidelines of an African editors' conference in Midrand, just north of Johannesburg.

Nigeria held parliamentary elections last weekend, which are to be followed by presidential polls next week.

In recent years South African businesses have taken a more active role in Nigeria, the continent's most populous country.

Malawi authorities said in January they had approved a bid from a consortium comprising SAA and Crown Aviation as the only one eligible to purchase a stake in Air Malawi, but they left the door open for other companies to present new bids.

Malawi privatisation officials have since held what they describe as "structured negotiations" with SAA and Crown Aviation on the sale of a 60-70% stake in Air Malawi.

Mkhondo did not say when SAA pulled out of the talks and Malawi Privatisation Agency officials have been reluctant to release any information on progress regarding the possible sale.

Air Malawi has three planes – a Boeing 737-300, a 12-seater Cessna and an ATR 42. Its most frequent international destinations from Blantyre are South Africa's commercial capital Johannesburg and the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Malawi privatisation sources told Reuters in Blantyre that SAA had offered to provide technical assistance to Crown Aviation – whose owners have not been made public – but the Malawian government insisted that SAA take an equity stake.

Mkhondo said SAA was in preliminary negotiations for a possible stake or role in Air Botswana.

He said SAA was awaiting a proposal from Air Botswana on what exact role it wanted SAA to play – ranging from taking an equity stake to a management role – and would then enter substantive negotiations.

He gave no indication of a timeframe for talks. – Reuters.