Not an 'ego restart': SAA will not just be 'flying to fly', says interim CEO

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To save costs in the short term, SAA is leasing aircraft on a 'power-by-the-hour' basis, meaning it does not pay if it does not fly.
To save costs in the short term, SAA is leasing aircraft on a 'power-by-the-hour' basis, meaning it does not pay if it does not fly.
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  • Embattled national airline SAA's reputation may have taken a knock, but it is "still strong", interim CEO Thomas Kgokolo said on Wednesday. 
  • The leadership of SAA and the DPE faced various questions from Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, including about funding and ownership.
  • Kgokolo told the committee that the airline was on track to restart on 23 September, with operations kicking off on the Johannesburg-Cape Town route.


Embattled national airline SAA's reputation may have taken a knock, but it is "still strong", interim CEO Thomas Kgokolo said on Wednesday. 

He added that there was no intention to "bring back the old SAA".

Funding for SAA again came under the spotlight as the airline's leadership fielded questions from Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises on Wednesday, despite the airline having found a strategic equity partner. 

At the committee meeting, Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Phumulo Masualle denied that the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) or the Development Bank of SA (DBSA) had been approached to fund SAA.

Masualle also denied rumours that Global Aviation - the minority partner of SAA's chosen strategic equity partner Takatso consortium - was withdrawing from the deal.

"Those rumours are without merit and unsubstantiated and we understand that the due diligence process of Takatso is near completion," he said.

'No challenges'

He insisted there were "no challenges" to SAA regarding operating costs and that "the plans for the airline will be able to be fulfilled".

Committee members Judith Tshabalala (ANC), Ghaleb Cachalia (DA), Michele Clarke (DA) and Sibusiso Gumede (ANC), as well as Scopa member Alf Lees (DA), asked about government's oversight of SAA going forward and whether more money would have to come from the fiscus.

Kgokolo said Treasury would not be giving guarantees for state-owned companies "unless under extremely strict conditions", which meant the airline would have to raise its own guarantees like any other business.

"So, some of the working capital we have will be used, but we are monitoring it closely," he said.

Kgokolo told the committee that the airline was on track to restart on 23 September, with operations kicking off on the Johannesburg-Cape Town route. Initially it will fly three times daily between Johannesburg and Cape Town, and from 27 September it will operate daily return flights to Harare, Lusaka, and Maputo and three times a week to Accra and Kinshasa.

Not just 'flying to fly'

Destinations will be added as operations are ramped up.

Top of the list of priorities is rebuilding customer trust and reclaiming lost market share while SAA was absent from the market, Kgokolo said.

"We are looking at repositioning and repackaging the actual offering, creating digital integration and reconfiguration of its fleet going forward. Strategically that should give SAA an edge and we believe we have good route slots to be competitive." While ticket prices had taken a knock during the pandemic, these were starting to normalise, he said.

To save costs in the short term, SAA is leasing aircraft on a "power-by-the-hour" basis, meaning it does not pay if it does not fly.

SAA is now a "much smaller airline", he said, which meant it had had to scrutinise its routes. "We did not thumb suck about restarting SAA. It is not an ego restart. We are not flying just to fly," he said.

The due diligence process by the Takatso consortium is being finalised and SAA worked closely with the DPE to provide the necessary financial, operational, legal and commercial information requested. The Takatso Consortium announced last week that its due diligence of SAA is substantially complete, and no material issues had been identified.

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