South African to downsize freighter fleet after ceasing overnight cargo ops

South African Airways will return an ACMI-leased 737-300F, but continues to operate two 737-300Fs on lease from GECAS.

South African Airways (SAA) is preparing to return a 737-300F (24278) that was ACMI-leased from Star Air Cargo [FAT 004934]. The move follows the termination of SAA’s overnight freighter operations, the carrier tells Cargo Facts. For now, the South African carrier will continue to operate a pair of freighter-converted 737-300Fs, but is evaluating modernization options.

The unit returned to Star Air Cargo does not appear to have flown for about six months, according to FlightRadar24. That leaves SAA with an active freighter fleet consisting of a pair of 737-300Fs (26070 and 26072) that have been on lease from GECAS since the aircraft were converted from ex-Shandong  Airlines feedstock back in 2007. Without overnight operations, the freighters are utilized on short regional routes from the carrier’s hub Johannesburg (JNB).

As is the case with many 737-300Fs in operation, SAA’s freighters are not young and will eventually need to be replaced. Both aircraft are approaching 30 years of age, and although SAA said that it does have long-term plans to replace them, it does not yet have a timeline. The carrier also said that it would consider “a mix of aircraft as well as collaborations with other third-party operators.” Given SAA’s current financial troubles and unclear prospects, Cargo Facts wouldn’t be surprised if the carrier turns to ACMI operations when it does look to renew its narrowbody freighter fleet.

Turning now to South Africa-based specialist carrier Star Air, the airline traces its cargo routes back to the mid-1990s when it started operating Cessna 402s for DHL, and today operates four 737-300Fs.  Star Air’s 737-300F fleet has an interesting history with two 737-300Fs (23706 and 23862) previously in operation for Toll Global Forwarding. The other two units 24276 and 24462 were formerly operated by Donghai Airlines and Ukraine International Airlines before both carriers ceased 737-400F operations.

Interested in how the global freighter fleet will develop over the next 20 years? The Cargo Facts Consulting 2019 Freighter Forecast is available now. Visit for more information. Those who purchase the Report prior to 17 June will also gain access to a live webinar with Cargo Facts Consulting Managing Director and report author, Frederic Horst.

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