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South African Airways and SunExpress Deepen Partnership

The holiday airline has set up a mini base in Johannesburg of which staff and two Boeing 737s from SunExpress fly from for South African Airways.

A SunExpress Boeing 737-800 aircraft (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

The South African national airline South African Airways is expanding its fleet to twelve aircraft, thanks to the addition of SunExpress jets and the success of this collaboration has prompted both airlines to consider a more extended partnership.  Initially centered on leasing two Boeing 737-800s, the collaboration is now expanding into a multi-year agreement that aims to optimize both airlines’ operations during seasonal variations.

The two airlines last week signed a memorandum of understanding, indicating plans for SunExpress to provide four aircraft to South Africa in the 2024-2025 European winter seasons, reports Aviation Week.

As part of this partnership, SunExpress, which is a joint venture between Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines, has established a mini-base in Johannesburg, with staff and two Boeing 737-800s now actively operating on behalf of South African Airways. This move signifies a deeper integration of the two airlines’ operations, with the leased aircraft with registrations TC-SEZ and TC-SOB, flying between Johannesburg and Durban, Cape Town, and recently, Gqeberha/Port Elizabeth.

Plan Evolution

Originally, the plan was a straightforward lease of two aircraft and cockpit crews. However, the growing demand prompted SAA to recognize the need for additional cabin crew assistance. Currently, ten flight attendants from Turkey are temporarily stationed in Johannesburg alongside 24 pilots and two technicians.

“The memorandum of understanding clearly underlines our commitment to further deepen our successful partnership with SAA,” SunExpress CEO Max Kownatzki says. “We are proud of the trust that SAA is placing in us with the renewed intention to collaborate. We strive to build on this to develop a strong, long-term partnership and leverage more opportunities together in the future.”

The collaboration between SAA and SunExpress is not just about expanding fleets but strategically navigating the industry’s seasonality challenges. As SunExpress experiences a 40 percent decrease in demand during the European winter, its partnership with SAA, whose peak season aligns with this period, creates a win-win situation. John Lamola, SAA’s boss, emphasized the significance of this partnership, highlighting that aircraft availability is currently one of the industry’s most significant challenges.

“This is part of our growth strategy,” Lamola stated, referring to the addition of Sun Express jets. The fleet of South African Airways has now grown to twelve aircraft, showcasing the airline’s commitment to rebounding from the challenges posed by the pandemic and creditor protection. The strategic move aligns with SunExpress’s plan to offer up to 10 aircraft to SAA as part of its own growth strategy.

The memorandum of understanding signifies a long-term commitment to a fruitful partnership. According to SunExpress CEO Max Kownatzki, the agreement signifies a move for SunExpress to deploy its surplus capacity during the off-season, offering up to 10 aircraft to SAA as the leisure airline expands its 737 fleet. The two airlines are also exploring expanded cooperation in maintenance, training, and commercial support.

For SAA, the arrangement provides much-needed extra capacity as the airline seeks to regain market share and grow its fleet from 13 aircraft to around 21 by the end of its fiscal 2025. Longer term, SAA is targeting a fleet of around 40 aircraft. That is still less than its former size, but enough to be a relevant player in the South African air transport market. However, SAA—grounded for 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic and having emerged from business rescue in late 2021—is finding it challenging to procure additional aircraft quickly. Like most other airlines, SAA is faced with a global shortage of aircraft. At the moment, SAA flies an all-Airbus fleet of six A320s, plus one A330-300 and one A340-300.

Victor Shalton


  • Victor Shalton

    Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Victor’s love for aviation goes way back to when he was 11-years-old. Living close to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, he developed a love for planes and he even recalls aspiring to be a future airline executive for Kenya Airways. He also has a passion in the arts and loves writing and had his own aviation blog prior to joining AirlineGeeks. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration at DeKUT and aspiring to make a career in a more aviation-related course.

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