SAA ACTING chief executive Zukiswa Ramasia. Reuters
JOHANNESBURG - The woes of embattled national carrier South African Airways (SAA) deepened on Sunday when the SAA Pilots Association (Saapa) threatened to down tools in an unprecedented move aimed at forcing changes at the airline.

Captain Grant Back, the chairperson of Saapa, said the organisation was canvassing its members on the appropriate action to take.

“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. SAA pilots will not sit back while the cycle of deterioration is allowed to continue. Like other unions, we have been forced to draw a line in the sand and to prepare to take action,” Back said.

“The pilots of SAA perform an essential role at the airline, and the success of SAA is crucial to us. We are prepared to fight for the future of the airline that so many of us have dedicated our professional lives to.”

The union joined other unions in registering their displeasure over the appointment of Zukiswa Ramasia as interim chief executive following the resignation of Vuyani Jarana this month. Saapa said Ramasia, who is the airline’s general manager of operations, was part of the current executive management team that mismanaged the entity.

Saapa will this week meet the board to thrash out their differences.

Meanwhile, other unions at the airline said on Friday that the state-owned airline had requested one week to deal with their demands of reinstating Jarana as group chief executive and a complete overhaul of the board.

This as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) on Thursday met the SAA board over the workers’ grievances following Jarana’s resignation two weeks ago.

In a statement, the unions said their key demand is that Jarana must be reinstated immediately for having produced a turnaround strategy which won the support of the government, the board and the unions.

SAA’s cabin crew members are represented in Sacca while Numsa members work at SAA Technical and at the airports in South Africa.

They said that though the board had informed the public that it had the government's backing on the turnaround strategy, SAA board chairperson JB Magwaza allegedly told them that there was no funding for the turnaround strategy and no funding capital for the airline.

“The board has requested an extra seven days in order to deal with the demands we have tabled in our memorandums, and we have agreed to grant them extra time,” they said. “While they deliberate, we will continue to mobilise on the ground in preparation for the possibility of the mother of all strikes in aviation if this board continues to ignore the demand to take the necessary steps to save SAA.”

SAA was not immediately available for comment.

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