From the Cockpit
Country Manager - India South African Airways
Improving connectivity with India
Sajid Khan, country manager of South African Airways (SAA) in India, reflects on the challenges ahead.
The flag carrier of the Republic of South Africa (RSA), South African Airways (SAA) is the largest airline in the African continent. Along with its subsidiaries and franchisees, SA Express, SA Airlink and Mango, connects to 56 destinations within South Africa and across the continent, and nine intercontinental routes from Johannesburg. It is a member of the largest international airline network, Star Alliance and has won several awards for the quality of its service, including winning the ‘Best Airline in Africa’ Award for 12 consecutive years and the winner of ‘Service Excellence Africa’ for three years.
As the Country Manager for India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Khan is responsible for the airline’s overall operations and management in these countries, as well as, providing strategic direction to the carrier’s business development, marketing, client relationship and customer service initiatives and standards.
When did SAA’s operations in India start and what has been the evolution so far?
We started flying to the country in 1994 and provided seamless access to South Africa and other regional destinations through a direct flight between Mumbai and Johannesburg, and ourcode-share partners in India. However, due to our network optimisation plans, we currently do not fly to India, but I hope to come back and update you very soon about the renewal our flights to India.
What are the challenges that you face in India?
Keeping a balance between cost and revenue is one of the major challenges an airline faces in the current market. The past few years have seen a lot of improvement in passenger experience and connectivity – both domestic and international. The new integrated civil aviation policy could be a game changer and is likely to benefit the whole sector.
Why did you stop your flights to India and when is this likely to be restored?
This was a decision taken due to network optimisation plans. It was a part of overall global restructuring of our operations around the world. I will update you when there is a change in the status.
What are the opportunities in the Indian market and what’s your opinion on the growth of Indian outbound tourism?
The Indian market is growing by leaps and bounds year on year. There is a surge in the number of tourists travelling abroad. This can be attributed partly to the fact that an increasing number of people have the means to go for international holidays and partly to international holidays becoming more affordable. In addition to this, an increasing number of people are travelling from India to South Africa for various purposes including education and business. International carriers have started considering India as an important destination and hence, are looking at ways to tap the lucrative market, either through direct connectivity or code-share. Improvements in regional connectivity have further aided international travelers. Besides the boost in numbers, an important change that has happened in the past few years is the increase in demand for better services and products that have led the domestic and international carriers to improve their offerings to match global levels.
What are your future plans for India?
We are looking at devising strategies that will help serve Indian travellers better.
Challenges faced by South African Airways
Many African airlines are grappling with skills shortages in aviation and in many countries, meddling by the governments is preventing airlines from making correct commercial and strategic decisions. Also, the risk of an increase in fuel prices, would make it nearly impossible for the long haul operations to be profitable.
Specifically to SAA, they are faced with a challenge resulting from the failure to acquire new wide body aircraft as well as not being able to implement a comprehensive partnership with the Emirates Airlines.