Emirates and South African Airways agreed to expand a codeshare partnership and explore other areas of bi-lateral co-operation in a boost to the state-owned African carrier, struggling to turn a profit since 2011.
The expanded commercial partnership will see the two airlines leverage one another's route networks, cargo services and flight schedules to increase passenger flows, Emirates said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
"This agreement marks a significant forward step in the execution of our strategy and in transforming our business," Vuyani Jarana, chief executive of SAA, said in the statement. "The expansion of our partnership will further strengthen key focus areas of the implementation of our turnaround plan."
The troubled South African national carrier, which has more than 9 billion rand (Dh2.389bn) of debt, is in the midst of restructuring by cutting staff and unprofitable routes and expects to break-even within the next three years. The carrier is a major concern for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government, which is battling to ease the debt burden of state-owned companies on public finances.
The new agreement with Emirates includes plans to enhance the two airlines' frequent flyer programmes, Emirates’ Skywards and Voyager by SAA. Emirates became a Voyager airline partner in 2000. This means Voyager members are able to earn and redeem air miles on flights operated by Emirates, while Skywards members are able to earn and redeem miles on SAA-operated flights.
"The forthcoming expansion of our codeshare agreement is an exciting development and a significant milestone in our history in South Africa,” Tim Clark, president of Emirates, said.
The expanded agreement builds on an existing codeshare pact signed in 1997.
About 90,000 passengers have benefited from the existing codeshare between the carriers in 2017-18, Emirates said. The Dubai-based carrier began routes to South Africa in 1995 with flights between Dubai and Johannesburg.
The deal for the wider partnership is pending government approval.
The expanded codeshare pact, while beneficial to the SAA, will also offer Emirates access to more destinations in Africa by a carrier well-established in that market then transferring more passengers via Johannesburg or Cape Town onwards to destinations across its network, Mark Martin, head of aviation advisory Martin Consulting, said.