SAA pilots body rejects interim CEO, threatens strike

State-owned airline SAA carried 6.9 million passengers in the year ending March 2016.
State-owned airline SAA carried 6.9 million passengers in the year ending March 2016.

The South African Airways Pilots Association says the newly appointed interim CEO of the airline, Zukisa Ramasia,  is not the right person for the job and the group has threatened to strike in a bid to "force necessary changes".

In a statement issued on Monday, the association described the recent developments at the struggling airline as a “cause for profound distress and concern” -- which require a competent leadership team.

“SAA needs an interim CEO with the appropriate experience and financial acumen to successfully run a major airline. Unfortunately, Ms. Ramasia is not that person,” it said.

Ramasia, a former general manager of operations at the airline was appointed acting CEO on June 7, following the resignation of Vuyani Jarana.

The association said it would seek the views of its members on the appropriate action over the matter.

"At this stage, we cannot rule out embarking on lawful industrial action for the first time in our 80-year history to force the necessary changes at SAA,"  said the body.

"Like other unions, we have been forced to draw a line in the sand and to prepare to take action. Any action we decide upon will not be taken lightly."

Last week, the South African Cabin Crew Association and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa staged lunchtime pickets at airports around the country, demanding the reinstatement of the former CEO.

The pilots association had previous called for an appointment of someone with unrivalled aviation experience to replace Jarana, whom they have credited with making progress in addressing some of the issues facing the national carrier.

“We have written to the board to express our dismay at the appointment of Ms. Ramasia and the retention of SAA's underperforming management team,” said the association.

“We are scheduled to meet with the board this week, in an attempt to resolve the crisis at SAA.”

In his resignation letter early this month, Jarana cited "bureaucracy and uncertainty about funding" as some of the reasons for his premature departure.

Jarana was appointed CEO in November 2017, amid high hopes that he could turn the indebted state-owned airline around. At the time of his appointment, SAA had R9.2bn in debt that was maturing on November 28, 2017.

“Our intention is not to add to the airline’s woes, it is to stop the further wastage of taxpayer's money and, ultimately, to put SAA on the path to recovery.”

Jarana had said he was prepared to work a three-month notice period until August 31.

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