'It seems I am always on standby' – acting SAA chief

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It has been a tough period for airlines in southern Africa and the rest of the continent, acting SAA CEO Zuks Ramasia said on Friday.

She was one of the opening speakers at the annual general meeting of the Airline Association of Southern Africa (AASA) hosted by Air Austral on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. She was appointed as the flag carrier's interim head in June after Vuyani Jarana stepped down.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects the global scheduled airline industry to achieve a $28bn profit this year – down from $35bn in 2018, but still a profit.

In Africa, by contrast, airlines are collectively expected to lose another $300m in 2019 – the 9th straight year of losses for the continent.

Ramasia – who is also deputy chair of AASA – believes African airlines can still be enabled to compete with international airlines. 

But she said many African airlines experience fluctuating fortunes, including operationally. SAA itself recently failed to submit its 2018/2019 report, and requires billions in bailouts to stay afloat.

Of the financially embattled state-owned airline she represents, Ramasia said they had "done [their] best".

"At SAA we did our best by, for instance, launching a ‘boutique service’ on the London flight, and feedback indicates this flight is on demand."

"It seems I am always on standby," Ramasia jokingly added, in an apparent reference to serving as SAA CEO in an acting capacity, as well as being deputy chair of AASA.

Pondering on what is stopping African airlines like SAA from reaching the next level, she said, "We (the African airline industry) can’t rest. We must do something all the time (to improve)."

The southern African region comprises 17 states – 16 SADC countries and the French island of Reunion. There are 25 scheduled commercial airlines operating in the region of which 13 are state-owned, three with joint public-private ownership and nine privately owned.

Of these six are profitable, two of which are state-owned – and nine are unprofitable. The performance of the remaining 10 are not known since their financial results are not published.

Globally passenger growth has slowed from 6.6% in 2018 to 5.6% so far this year. In Africa the average growth has accelerated by 2.8% this year compared to 2.3% last year.

Over the long term, annual passenger traffic growth is forecast to average 4.4% globally and 5.6% for Africa.

As for airfreight, global trade tensions are driving a negative global trend of 3.5% in 2019, with Africa deriving some benefit - a marginally positive growth of around 2% in 2019. Global data for August released this week indicate a 3.9% decline globally in airfreight and an 8% growth in Africa.

"We (the African airline industry) need to examine what is stopping us and constraining us and what can we do better. We have to be very honest and look at ourselves and ask what we can do to leapfrog and be better than everyone else," Ramasia said.

"Aviation is there for everyone. The stage is there for us to perform. Let nothing stop us. Let us learn and do our best for aviation in Africa."

UPDATE: Ramasia has since been elected as new AASA chair at the organisation's AGM on Saturday.

Fin24 is a guest of AASA at its AGM.

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