South African Airways has made its first non-stop flight to China. An SAA Airbus A340-600, specially branded in honour of the Chinese Year of the Dragon, left Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday, arriving in Beijing on Wednesday morning.
SAA – named Africa’s best airline for the ninth year running in the 2011 Skytrax World Airline Awards – will operate the Johannesburg-Beijing route non-stop three times a week using its Airbus A340-600 long-haul aircraft.
Flights between Johannesburg and Beijing take on average 15 hours, and flyers will be able to make use of the Air China Lounges in Beijing. Bookings are open through travel agencies and www.flyssa.com.
‘Opens up a strategic transport route’
Brand South Africa CEO Miller Matola, who was part of the South African delegation that was on board for the inaugural flight, tweeted on Wednesday morning that the route “opens up [a] strategic transport route between Asia, Africa and South America”.
According to Matola’s Twitter reports, South African Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk told a press conference in Beijing after the flight’s arrival that the new route would be a massive boost for trade and tourism between South Africa and China.
South Africa’s ambassador to China told the briefing that SA had introduced a new multiple entry visa concession for certain categories of Chinese investor – and that there were already 132 investors on the embassy’s database who qualified for the new concession.
“Speaker [sic] congratulates SAA pilots on great landing and showing skill in landing an Airbus … thumbs up Mzansi pilots,” Matola tweeted.
“SAA is most pleased to introduce non-stop flights to Beijing, China,” SAA chief executive Siza Mzimela said in December. “This new route is in line with SAA’s strategy to expand its network to Asia, the fastest growing market in the world.”
China and South Africa established a comprehensive strategic partnership in August last year, entering into agreements for cooperation in infrastructure construction, transportation, water resource use, housing, health and education.
The introduction of non-stop flights between the two destinations promises to facilitate business and leisure travel between the two countries.
“Introducing direct flights between China and South Africa will promote tourism and trade, not only to South Africa, but also to all Southern African Development Community and other African countries,” Mzimela said.
“South Africa and neighbouring destinations such as Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe are already popular destinations for Chinese tourists.”
Star Alliance partner
Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world. Beijing Capital International Airport, located 32 kilometres north-east of the city centre, is the main airport serving Beijing, and one of the busiest in the world.
There are three terminals at the airport, and South African Airways will operate in and out of terminal three, the designated terminal for Star Alliance partners. SAA’s operations at the Beijing airport will be handled by Air China which, like SAA, also belongs to the Star Alliance.
“Air China will also be code-sharing on the flight between Johannesburg and Beijing,” SAA said. “SAA in turn will code-share with Air China to and from Shanghai, with further destinations in China to follow in the near future.”