A South African Airways plane. Picture: SAA
A South African Airways plane. Picture: SAA

Retrenched SAA pilot hoping to teach in New Zealand as job prospects remain low

By Charlene Somduth Time of article published Aug 4, 2021

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Durban: TRAVELLERS will have to wait another month to use British Airways and kulula.com after their flights were suspended. Comair, which operates both airlines, is under business rescue.

In a statement on its website, Comair said it had opted to suspend their flights until August 31 due to the lockdown.

Glenn Orsmond, the chief executive of Comair, said flights would resume on September 1.

“This decision was not made lightly, as it has a significant impact on both our customers and our employees. However, under the circumstances, we believe it is the correct course of action to ensure the health and well-being of our customers and employees. We empathise with the government’s unenviable position with regards to balancing the health of the nation and the suffering economy.”

SAA and its subsidiary airline, Mango, have also had their flights grounded. Mango Airlines has entered into business rescue.

William Ndlovu, the airline’s acting chief executive, said all their services and flights had been temporarily suspended from July 27 until further notice.

“This is due to outstanding payments to ATNS (Air Traffic and Navigation Services). Senior management and our shareholder are locked in emergency discussions to find an amicable solution to this impasse,” he said.

Thomas Kgokolo, the interim chief executive of SAA, said compliance documentation was submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority and, once evaluated and passed, SAA would be cleared to restart operations under a renewed licence.

“(I am) hoping this process will be completed in a week or two. Running parallel to this process has been a mandatory retraining programme for pilots, which has now been completed. The government’s decision to revert to a level 3 Covid-19 lockdown has made the process of flight resumption easier. At this time, we are meeting with all our key role-players, putting into place final touch-ups and I’m hoping we can make an announcement on the passenger front within the coming weeks.”

Kgokolo said in terms of SAA Technical and Air Chefs, the Section 189 consultation process had started.

An SAA pilot, who declined to be named, said he received a letter on Saturday informing him about his retrenchment.

He served in the South African Air Force for 11 years, from 1997 to 2008, before joining SAA. He worked for SAA for 13 years.

“It has been an extremely depressing and difficult time. Apart from all of the trauma of Covid-19, the added difficulty of not receiving a salary since May last year has been devastating,” said the 47-year-old.

“I have had to take loans from family to see me and my family through. I have also resorted to begging the company for some form of back pay. In fact, the first payout most of the pilots received was a few days ago, which has been a total of 14 months without pay during probably one of the most challenging times in our lives.”

He said he was hoping to secure a flying job.

“I’m hoping that the world, in terms of the pandemic, starts to become a safer place and opens up again. And hopefully, I can secure a flying job. But sadly, those prospects seem bleak.

“Fortunately, I have managed to defer a lot of my expenses. The payout, which was minimal and unnecessarily dragged out over a long period, should sustain me if I live frugally for the next two years.”

However, he said he doubted that airlines would recover in the next two years.

The pilot said he now worked at a real estate company - selling and renting property.

“I am also trying to relocate to New Zealand to hopefully become a teacher there ...”

According to a statement by the African Airline Association (AFRAA), airlines suffered losses running into billions of dollars as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first quarter of 2021, AFRAA estimates airlines’ loss in revenue at $2.6 billion (about R38bn). The estimated loss in revenue for quarter two also runs into billion of dollars.

In 2020, African airlines cumulatively lost more than $10bn in revenue due to the impact of the pandemic. “This poor performance is a direct threat to the survival of the African aviation industry if the trend continues,” the association said.

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