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TAKE A LOOK: These pictures show how SAA evolved over the past 86 years

Business Insider SA
 Jan 17, 2020, 06:41 AM
South African Airways Airbus A330 (A330-243) airpl
South African Airways Airbus A330 (A330-243) airplane as seen on 19 November 2019 at Munich International Airport. Photograph Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • South African Airway's fleet first took to the skies in 1934.
  • Almost 86 years later, it has gone from being an award-winning airliner to business rescue in 2020.
  • These pictures show how SAA's fleet evolved over the last 86 years.
  • For more, go to BusinessInsider.co.za.

Airliner South African Airways (SAA) took to the skies in 1934. It started with a mere contingent of 40 staff members and a fleet of three Junkers F13s, one DH60 Gypsy Moth, one DH80A Puss Moth and a leased Junkers F13 and Junkers A50.

It now has more than 54 aircraft and almost 6,000 employees, flying to 35 destinations around the world.

But the airline is currently in business rescue and its future is in the balance, with reports that it may suspend flights on Saturday due to a cash crunch.

These pictures show how SAA's fleet evolved over the last 86 years: 

Sources: www.flysaa.com and the SAA Museum Society


1930s

Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
ZS-ABI de Havilland DH60G Gipsy Moth (1934). The only bi-plane ever operated by SAA was a single de Havilland DH60G Gipsy Moth. ZS-ABI was taken over from Union Airways in 1934. The aircraft carried one passenger. SAA used it for non-scheduled work. Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives

South Africa Airways was born on 1 February 1934, when the South African government took over the assets and liabilities of Union Airways, which was founded by Major Allister Miller in Port Elizabeth in 1929 and contracted to fly airmail

It consisted of 40 staff members and three Junkers F13s, one DH60 Gypsy Moth, one DH80A Puss Moth and a leased Junkers F13 and Junkers A50.

Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
ZS-AFD Junkers Ju 52/3m (1934). The legendary “Tante Ju” first flew in 1931 and more than 5000 were eventually built. SAA took delivery of 15 aircraft between 1934 and 1938. Up to 18 passengers were carried on internal routes and on regional routes to East Africa. The aircraft were transferred to the SAAF in 1940. None saw service after the war. Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
ZS-AGB Airspeed AS.6J Envoy (1936). SAA used four aircraft from 1936 on routes to Port Elizabeth and South West Africa until they were transferred to the SAAF in 1938. Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives


1940s

Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
ZS-BXG Douglas DC-3 Dakota (1946). The first of eight DC-3 aircraft operated by SAA joined the fleet in 1946 and were used all over Southern Africa until 1970. Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives

Having survived WWII, the end of the 1940s was a period of modernisation for airline. SAA introduced in-flight services and entertainment with air hostesses on domestic flights and a cinema on the direct service between Johannesburg and Cape Town.


1950s

Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
G-ALZK de Havilland DH106 Comet (1952). SAA leased two Comet 1 aircraft from BOAC in 1953/4 for use on the 'Springbok' route between Johannesburg and London. Due to structural problems the aircraft were withdrawn from service in 1954. Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives

In 1953, SAA operated BOAC Comet took off from Johannesburg en-route to London, becoming the first airline outside the UK to operate jet aircraft. 

 Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
ZS-DKE Douglas DC-7B (1956). In 1956 SAA became the first non-American airline to place the type in service. SAA’s service across the Indian Ocean to Perth was pioneered by the DC-7B. The four aircraft were later used internally before being sold in 1966/7. Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives.


1960s

Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
ZS-CKD Boeing 707 (1960). The 707 was the Seattle-based Boeing Company’s first jetliner, and SAA took delivery of 10 aircraft from 1960 to 1969. Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives

1960 saw the arrival of the Boeing 707 Intercontinental jet aircraft. Not only was it a more comfortable flight but it could also accommodate some 150 passengers. SAA also extended its orange tail insignia across the entire fleet. In 1968 they made an inaugural flight from Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro using a Boeing 707. In the 1968/1969 financial year, SAA carried more than a million passengers for the first itme.


1970s

Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives
ZS-SAN Boeing 747-244 (1971). SAA’s first 747, the world’s first wide-body jetliner, arrived in November 1971. The five reliable airliners were in SAA service for more than 32 years. Photograph SAA Museum Society Archives

The 1970s saw the arrival of the Boeing 747B, ZS-SAN 'Lebombo' and Airbus 'Blesbok'. At the same time, SAA purchased 12 Boeing 737s, three Boeing 747SPs and four Airbus A300s for the domestic and regional routes.


1980s

Due to economic sanctions, many international flights were suspended including to New York and Australia

SAA, South African Airways
South African Airways flew out of Sydney for the last time in 1987 due to sanctions. Photograph Robert Pearce/Fairfax Media via Getty Images


1990s

Photograph South African Airways/Sonja Grunbauer
ZS-SAK Boeing 747-444 (1991). The first of SAA’s eight 747-400 series aircraft arrived in January 1991. The most distinguishing feature of this version of the 747 is the “winglets”. Photograph South African Airways/Sonja Grunbauer. Source: SAA Museum Society Archives

The dawn of a new democracy saw the skies once again open for business. Economic sanctions against South Africa were lifted, and flights to New York and Australia resumed.

A SAA Boeing 747, captained by Laurie Kay, flew over the Rugby World Cup final in Ellis Park in 1995. In March of 1997, the plane unveiled its new logo.


2000s

South African Airways Airbus A330 (A330-243) airpl
South African Airways Airbus A330 (A330-243) airplane as seen on 19 November 2019 at Munich International Airport. Photograph Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

South African Airways embarked on an extensive fleet renewal programme and appointed Airbus as its supplier. They also launched an online check-in system and a self-check-in kiosk. In 2005 SAA became the first non-Saudi airline allowed to fly to Medina to carry Muslim pilgrims going on Haj.

2010s

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 05: A plane
A plane flies over Ellis Park prior to the Rugby Championship match between South Africa Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks on October 5, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photograph David Rogers/Getty Images

SAA embarked on a new fleet replacement programme. But its debt continued to mount - to more than R30 billion - and in 2019 it was placed in business rescue.

According to PlaneSpotters.net, the airliner currently has 50 planes comprising of 48 Airbuses and 2 Boeing 737s

SAA's Fleet

Airbus A319- 7                             

Airbus A32 -10                          

Airbus A330- 11                          

Airbus A34-16                          

Airbus A350 XW -4             

Boeing 737 - 2                             

Total -  50          

*Source: Planespotters.net

Compiled by Bombi Mavundza and Jay Caboz



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