Pilots tired of being asked to pour their cups of water into SAA's 'leaky bucket'


South African Airways' almost 600 pilots are frustrated with what they regard as a lack of skills at the airline and a lack of accountable leadership, Grant Back, chair of the SAA Pilots' Association told Fin24 on Tuesday.

The union is set to meet with the SAA board next week to discuss its demands.

These demands include that a CEO with aviation experience - especially in turning a company around – be appointed, having a skills audit done and also having pilots represented on the SAA board.

SAA announced on Monday afternoon that it is starting a restructuring process which may lead to 944 job losses – almost a fifth of its 5 146 work force. The restructuring excludes SAA subsidiaries SAA Technical, Mango Airlines and Air Chefs.

SAA Pilot's Association regards SAA's latest announcement of restructuring as a desperate measure. The pilot union does not rule out the possibility of strike action.

This comes as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association threatened "the mother of all strikes" due to the restructuring process as well as their wage increase of 8% having been denied.

"They constantly ask us to come to the party, while we see little done to turn things around," Back told Fin24.

Back explained that, at the beginning of last year, SAA pilots were told to reduce their number by 122. Over the past eight months the number of pilots was, therefore, reduced by 18% to just under 600.

On top of that, after an arbitration process with the airline, the cost to company of pilots to the airline is now 10% lower.

"SAA pilots provide a 100% service by taking off and landing planes safely - tasks for which we are held responsible. So, why is SAA management not held responsible when they do not fulfil their tasks?" he asked.

"Why are we expected to keep on throwing our cup of water into (SAA's) leaky bucket? They keep on asking for concessions from us. What has SAA really achieved in the past two years? We are no further along with the turnaround plan."

Back would like to see the SAA CEO have aviation experience – like the CEO of Lufthansa for instance – or the ex-CEO of another airline; someone who really knows and understands the industry from the ground up.

Asked about Sir Richard Branson recently commenting that Virgin Atlantic would be open to buying an equity stake in SAA, Back said Branson would be ideal to turn SAA around.

Fin24 recently reported that SAA is scrambling to obtain R2bn funding as working capital by November 20.

SAA acting CEO Zuks Ramasia said in a statement that, among the challenges faced by SAA are funding and liquidity challenges, the inability to borrow indefinitely without repaying debt and high interest costs on loans.

Over the past 13 years, the flag carrier has incurred over R28bn in cumulative losses. In the medium-term budget policy statement, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced that the state would pay off SAA's government-guaranteed debt of R9.2bn "over the next three years" to honour the airline's contractual obligations.

At a media briefing about the restructuring on Tuesday afternoon, SAA interim chief financial officer Deon Fredericks said that, without the required funding things would be "very difficult" for the airline.

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