10 January, 2003, JOHANNESBURG: To assist South African Muslim pilgrims travelling to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, South African Airways (SAA) has chartered a flight to transport them to the annual Hajj.
Views expressed that SAA is insensitive, intransigent or unwilling to help the pilgrims are therefore unfounded.
Unfortunately the airline cannot afford to arrange more than one charter flight currently on its way to Jeddah carrying 290 people, neither does it have spare aircraft available to ferry more passengers to Jeddah.
SAA constantly evaluates the possibilities of direct flights to Jeddah to assist in the annual pilgrimage. However, flying there would mean pulling off some aircraft from their daily or weekly assigned schedules to destinations across the globe. This would have a negative impact on the South African air transport industry, economy and inbound and outbound aviation traffic.
Also, flying to Jeddah would mean having an aircraft stationed there for seven days to bring back the pilgrims. Alternatively it would mean flying to Jeddah and returning with an empty aircraft, which is not economically viable.
Considering that Hajj is a specialised religious ceremony, it needs to be operated by airlines equipped to deal with high density charter aircraft. Such airlines include Air Atlanta and Onur Air, both controlled by Saudi Air.
Aviation transport is negotiated between governments. The governments deal with issues such as landing, flying and parking (slot) rights. The South African aero-political environment is open for Saudi airlines to operate charter flights from their country into South Africa.