Government wasting R5 million to fly an empty aircraft to fetch vaccines – SAA pilot

The South African government’s decision to send an empty South African Airways aircraft to fetch a batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines from Brussels is a waste of money.

This is the view of Grant Back, commercial airline pilot and chairman of the South African Airways Pilots Association.

The SAA flight to fetch the next batch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines left for Brussels last night after a previous delay.

The flight was initially set to depart on Sunday, but was grounded for a few days as it was not up to global aviation standards.

ENCA reported that there are around 4 to 5 cabin crew on the flight and that the chief pilot is Vusi Khumalo.

Speaking to ENCA, Back said the aircraft which is used for this flight is an Airbus A340-600 – a long-range, wide-body passenger jet airliner capable of carrying 379 passengers.

It costs R200,000 per hour to fly this aircraft. With a flight time of around 10.5 hours to Brussels, it will cost over R4 million for a return flight.

Add other costs like overflight clearances and landing fees, and the total price tag to bring home one pallet of 80,000 vaccines is around R5 million.

If this was the only option to get the vaccines to South Africa, Back said they would have supported it without hesitation.

There is, however, a much cheaper option, which has been used before.

“You can get a lot more vaccines into the belly space of a commercial aircraft that is flying to South Africa with passengers,” he said.

To use an empty Airbus A340-600 with 4 engines to fly to Europe and back for a single pallet of vaccines is a waste of money.

“The only thing I can think of is that this is a photo opportunity or a publicity stunt,” he said.

Grant Back interview

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Government wasting R5 million to fly an empty aircraft to fetch vaccines – SAA pilot