The South African Pilots Association has critisised government over the price of transporting vaccines on a SAA flight. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
The South African Pilots Association has critisised government over the price of transporting vaccines on a SAA flight. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

DPE says pilots’ association’s claims over SAA R5m vaccine flight are dishonest

By Siyabonga Mkhwanazi Time of article published Feb 26, 2021

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Johannesburg - The Department of Public Enterprises has hit back at the pilots’ association after the latter accused it of wasting money on a flight to pick up vaccines in Belgium.

The South African Pilots’ Association (Saapa) had said this week the flight would cost about R5 million. It said instead of using an empty SAA flight to Brussels to fetch the vaccines, government should have loaded the vaccines on a commercial flight, which was going to be cheaper.

But the department on Friday hit back at Saapa and said it was dishonest and wanted to hold government hostage.

“This flight was also a test relaunch of the SAA Cargo business. Many airlines around the world, including Lufthansa and Ethiopian, have intensified their cargo businesses while the passenger loads declined sharply, in order to bring in revenue. There will be many such flights by SAA in the months to come. This will also include transport of vaccines from manufacturers to African countries during the next months,” said the department in a statement.

“For many years SAA has proved that the cargo business has merit and value to serve the interests of customers and the country’s economic development. The Brussels flight to bring back the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is proof that a restructured and well-managed airline operated in a professional and sustainable manner can support key economic sectors – including travel, tourism and even cargo to solidify South Africa as an African gateway to international markets,” said the department.

It added the relaunch of the cargo business would jack up the airline and increase the volumes of these flights. This would generate much needed revenue in the business. The department said Saapa was raising the issue of the costs of the flight because it was happening without their members.

“Saapa has done everything in its power to discredit the commencement of flights at SAA because it is happening without their members. They are now raising a new allegation about the financial viability of the flight. This is all being done to protect the extortionist regulatory agreement, which ensured that pilots who are 11% of SAA staff get a massive 65% of the salary bill, and certain strategic decisions at the airline could not be effected without their consent,” it said.

“For the DPE and SAA Business Rescue Practitioners, the agreement is unlawful because it holds back the transformation and does not allow progress of black pilots as designated in the Employment Equity Act.

“By providing this kind unwarranted attack on SAA Cargo, this minority pilot group is holding SAA hostage and attempting to destroy the very employer who could provide them with the continuation of their professional practise in years to come. It is short-sighted and self-destructive,” the department added.

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Political Bureau

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