Pilots: State can save SAA yet

Despite the turbulence they have experienced at the workplace in recent times, the pilots of South African Airways believe the national carrier is in good hands and can still become a successful airline under government.

This is according to the SAA Pilots Association (Saapa), which this week emerged in support of SAA CEO Vuyani Jarana, saying that he was equal to the task of turning the beleaguered national carrier around.

In September, Kempton Express reported that six senior pilots at SAA had tendered their resignations to the utility at around the same time.

The carrier has also opted to rent out its pilots and crew staff to other carriers as a cost-cutting mechanism.

Executive Member of the association Glen Smith told Fin24 that Saapa were supportive of the efforts of the CEO, his new team and the competent and committed managers in various departments at SAA aiming to turn the airline around.

"We think they deserve a fair chance to deliver. We are willing to work with the CEO, his team, and anyone else at SAA who is focused on fixing the real issues," said Smith.

Smith admitted that the association had "mixed feelings" about pilots and crew staff being rented out to other airlines, although it prevented the national carrier from losing experienced pilots of a high standard permanently.

"Allowing pilots to work elsewhere temporarily creates some breathing space and reduces costs whilst SAA recovers - all without the need for retrenchments. These pilots will then be available once again to SAA when it enters into a new growth phase, as we believe it will," Smith said.

However, he said, renting out to other airlines was only necessary due to SAA being in bad shape as a result of previous mismanagement. Smith said many of "good friends" and colleagues had displaced themselves and their families overseas for this reason.

While he would not comment one way or the other about privatisation of SAA, Smith said the global aviation industry was awash with examples of successful state-owned airlines.

"This is a decision that can only be taken by government, but one of the most successful airlines in the world, Emirates, is 100% state-owned. The biggest and most profitable airline in Africa, Ethiopian Airlines, is 100% state-owned.

"At the same time, Kenya Airways is back on the path to profitability after turning its debt into equity in a public/private partnership," said Smith.

He said what set these airlines apart from SAA was that they were properly capitalised; full of competent business, commercial and aviation experts; and allowed to run without interference or overburdensome legislation, on a strictly commercial basis.

"SAA is still a very good airline. As the pilots of SAA, we are willing to work with anybody – regardless of the ownership structure that the shareholder decides on – that has the long-term interests of SAA at heart and the capability and the capacity to get the airline back on track," he said.

Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I'm not really directly affected
18% - 1957 votes
I am taking a hit, but should be able to recover in the next year
23% - 2564 votes
My finances have been devastated
34% - 3814 votes
It's still too early to know what the full effect will be
25% - 2744 votes