Durban - SA AIRWAYS (SAA) has expressed disappointment that its pilots have threatened to down tools over rescuing the airline, while negotiations were still in progress.
SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said they were disappointed that the SAA Pilots’ Association (Saapa) chose to release a statement while they were continuing to engage them and were in the middle of the negotiation process.
“We would have preferred to see the process run its natural course before any statements were made by either party,” he said. Last week, Saapa announced that it was prepared to resort to industrial action to bring about necessary changes at the national carrier.
The statement was made after a survey carried out by an independent service provider showed that 90% of pilots (who took part in the survey) were in favour of taking part in a protected strike to enforce a higher standard within SAA.
The survey also found that 91% found operations management to be “poor” or “extremely poor”.
In a letter addressed to SAA, the pilots demanded, among other things, that a chief executive with airline specialised skills and experience be appointed within 90 days, a retired or active pilot with the necessary knowledge and experience be appointed to the SAA board, and that flight operations be restructured based on the structure of several world-class airlines and best practice. The letter further demanded that the ailing airline conducted a skills audit of its various managers.
Should the matters not be addressed, Saapa said they would embark on strike action. If they do, it would be SAA’s first in its 80-year history. Tlali said while they acknowledged the challenges raised, they had taken steps to address them.
“We must all understand that the appointment process takes time as due process must be followed. Notwithstanding the number of key appointments, including the chief commercial officer, chief executive of SAA Technical and the chief executive of Mango, have been announced and more executive hires are in the pipeline,” he said.
Tlali said management was still engaging with Saapa and other unions.
“We are cognisant of the need to urgently turn SAA around and have accelerated our long-term turnaround strategy.
“The board and the executive are working on this urgent task and we urge Saapa to continue with constructive engagements. It is in no one’s interest to embark on industrial action,” Tlali said.
However, economist Dawie Roodt said the strike would not impact on the economy or affect travel.
“There are many other alternative airlines that we can make use of. However, it would be disruptive.
“The downside of this is that if SAA does not fly, it will incur more losses for the taxpayer,” he said.
Roodt said British Airways announced recently that it would not be making use of SAA’s technical division any longer, adding that the airline had lost huge market share to other airlines.