South African Airways may sell Heathrow slots to raise cash

South African Airways may sell its two prized- nighttime operating slots at London’s Heathrow Airport, as the state-owned carrier battles to stave off financial collapse, according to people familiar with the situation.

The national airline is currently using only one of the two takeoff and landing slots, and could shift London-Johannesburg flights to a cheaper daytime schedule, said the people, who asked not to be identified as an official announcement hasn’t been made.

That would reduce costs as the turnaround time would be shorter and free up the more valuable night-time slots for a potential sale.

The airline was placed under a local form of bankruptcy protection by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa after last making a profit in 2011. It has received 57 billion rands ($3.9 billion) in bailouts since 1994.

The administrators have announced that they will cut eight international routes. The  Johannesburg drawing criticism from labour groups and government.

“SAA continues to operate to London and this has been confirmed by network changes recently announced by the business rescue practitioners,” spokesman Tlali Tlali said in an emailed response to questions on Thursday.

“This means the current Heathrow slots remain within SAA’s overall portfolio.”

The slots do not have to be used to fly between the U.K. and South Africa as they are merely time slots for Heathrow. Nevertheless, overnight flights to and from Johannesburg are convenient for the 11-hour journey and are likely to attract customers. In addition to SAA, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways currently ply the route.

Separately, Virgin said Wednesday that the airline plans to resume flights between Heathrow and Cape Town starting in October.

In 2016, Oman Air set a record by buying a landing slot in Heathrow for $75 million from Air France-KLM.

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