Regional major carrier, South Africa Airways (SAA) has celebrated 20 years of successful operations in Nigeria without any major incident and airlifting over three million passengers during the period.
The celebration came amid anxiety about the future of the South Africa's national carrier, which started operation to Lagos in 1998 with two times flights a week from Johannesburg.
The Managing Director of the airline, Vuyani Jarana, in a press conference in Lagos to mark its 20thanniversary, said while the airline had very good plan to become profitable, it had failed to fully implement the plan to actualise this objective. But this time, with the crop of professionals in the airline's new management, it is now focused on implementing those strategies that would make the airline profitable within the next three years.
Jarana, however, expressed understanding with sceptics who doubt the future of the airline, noting that since past promises to return to profitability failed, it would be difficult to convince those sceptics until they see the airline making profit.
The company's operations commenced on 4th December 1998 as SAA launched its first flight into Nigeria soon after the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between the two countries was signed.
Jarana, said the airline has since brought several aircraft on the route, from the initial Airbus 300 series, which had to make a technical stop en-route in Luanda to the Boeing 767 and the B747-400 and to the Airbus A340-600, which was then replaced by the current state of the art Airbus A330-300 aircraft.
As stated earlier, the trade agreement contained in the BASA stipulated two times weekly flight operations. This was later increased to four times weekly and subsequently to daily flight between Lagos and Johannesburg.
Jarana, also said there are plans to improve the ease of obtaining South Africa visa in Nigeria as the country wants to boost business and tourism with Nigeria, noting that the South African embassy would be encouraged to offer Nigerians multiple visa entries to encourage Nigerians qualified to secure visas to visit the country many times.
He noted that African countries are not doing enough business among each other, regretting that the large volume of trade are always between African countries and other nations of the world and not within the continent.
Yet, there are huge business potential African nations can do among themselves, he noted.
"There is less intra-African trade but there are a lot of opportunities for Africans to do business together, especially in the area of agriculture," Jarana said.
He said SAA is in Nigeria for the long haul, noting that the country has huge passenger movement which which has continued to grow.
But he pointed out that doing business in Nigeria is not a tea party, therefore one would be prepared to meet the needs of Nigerian passengers.
Also SAA general manager, commercial, Pumla Luhabe lauded the successful flight operations the airline has recorded in the last 20 years.
"The Nigeria operations rank amongst SAA's most profitable and we want to continue to support this important destination by continuously improving the overall customer experience and exploring new opportunities. This will enable us to retain our market position as the carrier of choice amongst the Nigerian travelling community.
"Our understanding of our customer profiles who travel in both business and economy class cabins, is one of the reasons we decided to deploy the A330-300 aircraft which responds well to the needs of this market," Luhabe said
"With its thriving economy, Nigeria is Africa's economic powerhouse; Lagos is a high-energy city famous for its vibrant lifestyle, set against the backdrop of the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, and their world renowned music industry bolstered by heavyweights such as the late legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti to the modern day Davido, DBanj, and Psquare to mention a few. Nigeria offers numerous commercial opportunities and a cultural experience like no other.
"Nigeria is among the top destinations to which we fly, and over the past 20 years SAA has transported over three million passengers into the region and we will continue to listen to our customers to ensure we are providing them with the best possible service for continued loyalty. Reinforcing our legacy of exceptional service, SAA was recently voted Best Airline Staff in Africa at the World Aviation Awards," Luhabe added.
In honour of this milestone, SAA rolled out a campaign that saw brand activation on social media, radio and print publications from September 2018 in the Nigeria region.
Some of the activities included Voyager / Corporate dinner, a Travel trade award function, SAA movie night for the travel trade and to the children of the Arrow of God Orphanage (an orphanage supported by SAA over the past eight years), all leading to a celebration to be hosted in Lagos this December.