Parliament - South African Airways's losses for the current year are expected to reach R4 billion, the state-owned carrier's chief financial officer told Parliament on Wednesday.

Phumeza Nhantsi said the reason the company's losses would exceed a forecast of R2.8 billion was largely related to the retirement of five aircraft which has forced it to cancel flights. Its maintenance bill for the second quarter exceeded its budget by R300 million. 

The airline's new chief executive Vuyani Jarana told Parliament's standing committee on finance, the company would have to find R4 billion to pay back foreign and local lenders by the end of March in 2018. These include US lender Citibank.

He told a briefing on SAA's quarterly financial performance he saw his main task as "bringing back liquidity" to the company that currently had outstanding debt of R13.8 billion.

SAA received a R3 billion cash injection in September when Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba dipped into the National Revenue Fund to stave off a default by the company on its Citibank debt obligations.

In his medium-term budget policy statement in October, Gigaba confirmed the company would receive a R10 billion capital injection. SAA said on Wednesday it would use R7 billion to repay lenders and the rest of the sum to address "short term working capital challenges". 

But Jarana confirmed that even with the recapitalisation the company would remain undercapitalised with a negative equity position of over R9 billion.

The briefing marked Jarana's first appearance before the finance committee since taking the helm at the airline, which is seen as one of the major fiscal risks to the South African economy.

Committee chairman Yunus Carrim said the spirit of the meeting, including executives' readiness to answer questions, marked a welcome shift. The committee was among those to call for the departure of controversial, long-serving SAA chairwoman Dudu Myeni. She had been accused of meddling in operational matters and was fired a month ago.

Nhantsi said the company did not plan to immediately revise its five-year turnaround strategy under Jarana's leadership, but would stress-test it. It has to submit an implementation plan for the strategy to Gigaba by December 30, as part of the conditions for recapitalisation.

Jarana emphasised that he was determined to make the airline a commercial success, and said he had seen heartening enthusiasm from staff to help return it to profitability.

SAA's long-awaited annual general meeting is scheduled for January 19, 2018.

Its executive team on Wednesday attributed the company's extreme reliance on debt on its weak capital structure, high cost structure, increased competition and over-reliance on leasing aircraft. The company was recently granted a reprieve by local lenders who agreed to extend maturing loans until March 2019.

African News Agency