Pilots Hope Airline Will Be Saved

If it takes job cuts to make SAA sustainable, the state-owned airline’s pilots could find alternative opportunities in a region like the Middle East, where there is a huge demand for pilots, Captain Grant Back, chairperson of the SAA Pilots’ Association, told Fin24 on Monday.

“We have to wait and see what the numbers will dictate regarding possible retrenchments and downsizing at SAA.

“If the business rescue practitioners (BRPs) present figures that make sense, and we can establish these as accurate, then obviously we will work with them on their plan, but the plan must still be formulated and presented. They will need buy-in from labour, and in order for that to happen, the process must be transparent,” noted Back.

“SAAPA will cooperate with the BRPs in their quest to try and save SAA. Of course, our members would like to see SAA as well as South Africa succeed, and finding a new job might mean having to relocate.”

He indicated currently, there are more than 540 pilots who actively fly for SAA. It usually takes six to 10 years to qualify as a commercial pilot and be eligible to join an airline.

According to Back, it would be good to finally see what plan the BRPs submit. At the moment, the BRPs have a finite amount of working capital available to try and keep the airline operating day-to-day.

“I guess we would have to wait for the announcement of the National Budget to hear what monies government will allocate to SAA,” he pointed out.

“I think SAA is worth saving and, with the right skills, it can be turned around. On top of that, if a state-owned enterprise like SAA is turned around, that could boost the confidence in SA as a country and positively affect the psyche of the nation.”

He added that, unlike the aviation sector in the developed world, where there are many airlines and a huge resource pool of skills to choose from, there are limited airline skills in SA. In his opinion, it would therefore be a good idea to look for an SAA CEO from outside South Africa – “someone who understands the airline industry and especially has experience in turning an airline the size of SAA around”.

“With the right skills in place in management, it will go a long way to get SAA back on track,” said Back.

Last year, before SAA went into business rescue, SAAPA voted on a motion of no confidence in the SAA senior management and the acting CEO. SAAPA also told the Department of Public Enterprises that in their view, a hands-on individual is needed to stabilise the airline, someone who understands the running of an airline the size of SAA and who can rally the employees to get the best out of the airline.

“We don’t have time to appoint someone who does not understand the airline industry,” Back said. –Fin24