South African Airways applies to the DOT for an ongoing exemption extension of rights to fly to the United States
In an April 28 application to the Department of Transportation (DOT), SAA asked for a further extension of its existing exemptions and reinstatement of its exemption authority to serve Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), Miami (MIA), Washington (IAD), and Philadelphia (PHL) on a co-terminal basis given the recent grants of co-terminalization rights to United Airlines and Delta by South African authorities (in response, United Airlines states it does not have any South African Government-issued co-terminal rights).
In its aviation news coverage, Simple Flying has reported on the brawl between United and Delta to acquire the last remaining US airline dedicated capacity on the US – South Africa country pair. However, the rights for airlines based in South Africa have received less attention.
US-South Africa air services agreement gives SAA plenty of latitude
The US-South Africa bilateral air service agreement allows South Africa-based airlines to provide air transportation of people, property, and mail from a point or points in South Africa, via intermediate points, to Miami, New York, and four other US airports and beyond to 25 other airports in the United States on a codeshare-only basis with a US-based airline or airlines.
The air services agreement also grants South African air carriers the right to provide codeshare services beyond the US to third countries on a blind-sector basis and to provide fifth freedom services to the US via points selected by the Republic of South Africa.
“SAA respectfully requests that the Department renew its existing exemptions, reinstate its exemption authority to serve LAX, JFK, MIA, IAD, and PHL on a co-terminal basis, and issue any other or further relief as the Department determines to be consistent with the public interest,” the application reads.
Green shots at South African Airways
On one level, this is a simple filing exercise, and the DOT is likely to grant all or most of what SAA wants. On another level, it reveals SAA doesn’t want to give up its rights to fly to the US despite the airline not having the capacity to service the full range of existing rights. After a prolonged grounding, South Africa’s flag carrier is back in the air after exiting a lengthy restructuring process and an impending takeover by the Takatso Consortium.
SAA’s interim Chief Executive Thomas Kgokolo has stepped down in favor of SAA Chairman John Lamola. Crippled by structural and financial problems that pre-date the pandemic, SAA is a shadow of its former airline self, but the airline looks like it has successfully dodged going out of business. But so far, a restructured SAA is only flying on a handful of domestic and pan-African routes.
While many airline industry pundits wrote SAA off, it seems that’s not going to be the case. And as SAA’s interest in maintaining its flying rights to the US indicates, it may yet one day end up giving Delta and United some competition on the South Africa – US country pair.