File image: IOL
JOHANNESBURG -  In June this year the South African Airways Pilots’ Association (SAAPA) began the process of canvassing its members on their perception of management at South African Airways (SAA).

The survey, carried out by an independent service provider, also asked each pilot their view on the appropriate action necessary to ensure a proper turnaround of SAA and to return it to sustainability.

516 out of 635 (or 81%) of the SAA pilots responded to the survey. 

The Key findings included:

  • 91% of pilots said operations management was “poor” to “extremely poor”;
  • 96% were in favour of taking a “proactive stand” to force change at the airline; and
  • 90% were in favour of engaging in protected industrial action to enforce a higher standard within SAA.
"It needs to be understood that the decision to embark on industrial action is not one that the pilots of SAA will take lightly. Indeed, if such a strike is embarked upon, it would be for the first time in SAA’s  80-year history,"  SAAPA said in a statement.

"The pilots of SAA and the leadership of SAAPA cannot allow SAA to continue as if it is business as usual. Our numerous engagements with the Company have not yielded outcomes that give us confidence in the future of the airline." 

SAAPA also said that  the skills deficit must be addressed with urgency. The vast majority of recent appointments are in an ‘acting’ capacity reminiscent of the Dudu Myeni era, where appointments were made based on allegiances instead of skills and experience. In the last 18 months two expensive organizational designs were carried out and yet nothing has been implemented.

SAAPA said that  SAA Management and the Board have failed repeatedly to take any of a multitude of promised actions. 

SAAPA sent a Letter of Demand to the Company in August 2019 that included the following demands:

  • The appointment of a CEO within the next 90 days whose previous work experience includes the post of CEO and who has specialised skills and experience in the turnaround of an airline similar in size to SAA.
  • The appointment of a retired or active pilot to the SAA Board (this is to ensure that someone with the required skills, knowledge and experience pertaining to large, jet-powered aircraft operations can provide the necessary guidance and input).
  • The restructuring of Flight Operations (based on the structure of several world class leading airlines and best practice) that was presented and submitted to the Board on behalf of both Management pilots and SAAPA which includes a Director of Flight Operations (DFO) at EXCO level reporting directly to the CEO. The DFO must be selected from the ranks of SAA pilots. SAAPA will be involved in the selection of the DFO and have the right of veto.
  • A skills audit (to be undertaken by an independent party) within the next 60 days of all General Managers and Heads of Department, including those in acting positions. The skills audit shall be based on international best practices using Ethiopian Airlines and Lufthansa as a benchmark. The outcome of the skills audit must be acted on and implemented.
  • Compliance with and adherence to our collective agreements, the Regulating Agreement and the Recognition Agreement.

SAAPA said, " We trust that the company will consider our demands with the seriousness required. If not, we will be left with no choice. Our pilots have indicated that – if necessary – they are willing to embark on lawful industrial action to save the airline.  SAAPA’s intention is not to add to SAA’s problems. On the contrary, our goal is to put an end to the continual pressure on the fiscus in the form of bailouts and guarantees and, ultimately, to help put the airline on the road to recovery." 

"We are convinced that, if these demands are met, SAA can return to its historic status as a leading world airline,"  SAAPA concluded.