SAA's 'R5m journey' to fetch latest vaccine doses a 'vanity flight', says pilots' association

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SAA has spent millions on fetching a batch of vaccines.
SAA has spent millions on fetching a batch of vaccines.
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty
  • The South African Airways Pilots' Association has slammed government for spending around R5 million to transport vaccine doses.
  • An SAA flight left for Belgium on Wednesday night to fetch a consignment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • According to the organisation, commercial flights could have been used to transport the vaccine doses for significantly less.

The transportation of vaccines in an empty South African Airways (SAA) aircraft has come under fire.

The South African Airways Pilots' Association (Saapa) has lambasted the government for chartering an empty passenger plane to fetch a batch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from Brussels.

The flight, which left on Wednesday night, is expected to return on Saturday with 80 000 vaccine dose.

READ | Next batch of J&J vaccines to arrive on 27 February

Saapa chairperson Grant Back has estimated the flight will cost around R5 million. He said a plane of that size would cost around R200 000 per hour, with a flight time to Europe of most likely around 10 hours. This cost excludes the payment of the staff on board, as well as accommodation for the staff in Belgium.

Back said other commercial flights were scheduled for the same day and could have been used to transport the vaccine for less – especially because the vaccine doses do not take up much space or weight allowance.

Option

"We are 150% behind using crew and planes for transporting vaccines if there's no other option. But this was not the only option. This was a vanity flight," Back said.

The cost of the flight was covered by the government, said Louise Brugman, a spokesperson for SAA's business rescue practitioners.

"It's a commercial arrangement between SAA and the government. What they put on the flight and how they use it, is up to them," she said.

Department of Public Enterprises spokesperson Richard Mantu said the criticism was unfair.

"We need to get the vaccines for the benefit of millions of South Africans. No one is going to bring them to us. We have to go fetch [the vaccine]," he said.

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