file Image: IOL
JOHANNESBURG - Having realised that South Africa realistically cannot afford SAA, I read Javid Malik’s idealistic and optimistic article (Business Report, May 2) with growing disbelief and would like to pick up on some of his statements:

SAA as a national symbol

Right now SAA has the sad reputation of being a hugely inefficient enterprise which has more than eight times the number of employees per aircraft than the norm in the industry, loses millions in revenue partly through the endless freebies it provides to politicians past and present, but mostly through poorly controlled spending and bad business decisions, and being an airline of indifferent passenger service.

It has long ago lost its pride of place in the state’s portfolio of businesses and it has been costing the taxpayer untold billions over the years.

Its image locally and abroad is, frankly, that of a bloated, inefficient, wastefully run airline which hasn’t a hope in hell of ever being competitive and profitable as long as there is the prevalent lack of political will and decisiveness to take drastic action.

It is not required at all to bolster South Africa’s image or reputation abroad, as there is a plethora of efficient foreign airlines which service the tourist industry.

This national symbol is now an object of derision and resentment, because every taxpayer in South Africa knows that every passenger who flies SAA is heavily subsidised.

SA the economic powerhouse of Africa

Sorry, Javid. That title now belongs to Nigeria. But if we narrow this concept down to airlines, then Ethiopian will be first.

Business consultants

The home-grown aviation experts Javid mentions will no doubt be aware of what ails SAA, as mentioned above, as are most readers of Business Report,

When they devise their 10th turn-around plan they will obviously compose a list of remedies as long as your arm, but in the South African context they will be impotent to carry them out.

Take the gross overstaffing, for instance.

There is no way that the almighty unions are going to allow cutting back employee numbers to profitable levels.

Given that too many SAA employees have a culture of doing hardly anything to earn their pay, the inertia will simply be too great.

Does Javid propose that the government must again pour another R10, R20, R30 billion into the black hole and hope that they will all suddenly turn into enthusiastic, honest workers ?

Lessons from the past

If all that is required to turn SAA into a money-spinner is adequate support to be given to the current crop of management and board of directors, why have so many managers and boards of directors failed dismally in the previous nine turn-around efforts, when the government was bankrolling them lavishly with taxpayers’ money?

How glib to state that all we have to do is unite and make our national flag carrier the best it can be. Realistically, right now it is the best it can be! Exactly how are we to unite and help out?

Lessons from the present

No, he did not have this heading in the article. But think for a moment how cut-throat the worldwide airline industry is, how slim the margins, how ruthlessly efficient any management has to be to break even, let alone make progress.

There are plenty international airlines struggling, even without the enormous baggage of affirmative action, BEE and historical disadvantages to overcome.

Then you will realise that it just isn’t good enough to have a person in SAA uniform standing at the airport unable to direct a passenger to the information office, having a fat cabin assistant sitting at the back of the plane letting her colleagues do all the work, having a steward help himself to the first-class snacks at midnight to take home, letting the passengers to Ghana go clanking off the plane carrying SAA cutlery, etc, etc.

These are small problems at the lowest level, perhaps, but so symptomatic of a failed airline.


However, miracles have been known to happen.