SAA to support passengers of grounded SA Express, unions worried about jobs

Picture: Ian Waldie/Reuters

JOHANNESBURG – State-owned South African Airways (SAA) said on Friday it had recovery plans in place that entailed partnering with other airlines to support passengers affected by the grounding of SA Express planes.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said it was concerned about the safety of workers at the grounded carrier and the security of their jobs.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) on Thursday suspended SA Express’s certificate of airworthiness, the operator’s certificate as well as aircraft maintenance approvals, citing a deficient safety management system which posed a huge public safety risk.

As a result, nine out of 21 aircraft being operated by SA Express were grounded and the airline but must reapply to continue its business.

On Friday SAA, which has struggled with cash constraints in recent years, said it had collaborated with Mango Airlines and SA Airlink to service stranded SA Express passengers.

“Our priority remains customer assistance in the best way possible in order to minimise the inconvenience caused by the suspension of SA Express services,” spokesperson Tlali Tlali said.

Although SA Express is operationally independent of SAA, its flights are incorporated within a strategic alliance with the national carrier.

SAA said it would rebook, reroute or refund passengers whose travel plans had changed due to the suspension of SA Express flights. It would  compensate all passengers where applicable.

Union Numsa urged the department of Public Enterprises to intervene, saying at least 1,100 jobs were on the line if SA Express failed “to deal decisively with the problems raised by SACAA”.

“They must prioritize this issue otherwise workers will suffer as a consequence,” Numsa added.

Another trade union, Solidary, said the debacle showed the state could not be trusted with the management of any airline, slamming a suggestion by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan that SAA should merge with Mango and SA Express.

“It would be akin to throwing a cement life jacket to a drowning person,” Solidary said, arguing for business rescue for the trouble airline.

“A business practitioner responsible for turning SAA around should be appointed by the court,” Solidary said, adding it would file a court application for business rescue “within the near future”.

– African News Agency (ANA)