Johannesburg - At the end of January South African Airways (SAA) has to return two aircraft it is currently leasing once their lease contracts expire.
It is rumoured that the airline's management forgot to renew the contracts. On Wednesday SAA spokesperson Fani Zulu declined to confirm or deny that this had accidentally occurred.
At the time of going to press Zulu did however confirm that the airline soon had to return the Boeing 737-800s.
He also confirmed that SAA would relinquish a third Boeing to Mango, its low-cost subsidiary.
But Zulu said that the loss of the three aircraft was no "train smash".
He said that their loss in no way meant that any of SAA's existing routes or frequencies would be affected. On the contrary, the company still planned to expand its network in 2011, which would be made possible by, for instance, more effective management of its existing aircraft.
Zulu said that the loss of the aircraft would be a problem only if the airline could no longer meet its commitments.
It was unclear who had been responsible for the renewing of the contracts and the airline was in a meeting until late on Wednesday to discuss the situation.
SAA has a poor history with regard to airline contracts. Last year, for instance, it came to light that it had neglected to cancel an Airbus contract for new aircraft. It had erroneously believed the contracts to have been cancelled.
The two 737s that will be lost are an important part of SAA's domestic and regional operations.
The airline expects to acquire new Airbus A320s to replace the Boeings only in 2013.
SAA currently has 21 of these Boeing 737-800s, which can transport 157 passengers, in service.
The company's balance sheet is seriously under pressure with heavy gearing. It is therefore possible that the airline could benefit from the lapsing of the contracts.
Zulu declined to comment on this possibility.
Ultimately, he said, it was up to the company itself what it did with its aircraft. The existing fleet could perhaps be used more efficiently without cutting down on frequencies. Should that be so, it would imply inefficiencies in the manner in which the company had previously operated its aircraft.
Kathy Bill, a spokesperson of the SAA Pilots Association (Saapa), said the airline had already informed it that that the lease agreements for the two aircrafts had not been renewed.
Discussions were being held with the airline to determine the impact of two fewer aircraft. Saapa represents pilots working for the airline.
The state-controlled airline will meanwhile start acquiring new A330-200s. These aircraft, the first of which is expected in the first quarter of 2011, are however destined for long-distance flights such as that between Johannesburg and London.
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