The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) has hit back at disgruntled pilots who criticised its recent flight to Brussels to pick up a batch of COVID-19 vaccines.
Grant Back, a commercial airline pilot and chairman of the South African Airways Pilots Association (SAAPA), previously called the flight a waste of money, stating that it would cost around R5 million to fly the Airbus A340-600 to and from Brussels.
“The only thing I can think of is that this is a photo opportunity or a publicity stunt,” Back said.
The DPE has hit back at these comments, stating that this criticism is the result of a minority of SAA pilots trying to protect their own self-interests and pockets.
“This flight was also a test relaunch of the SAA Cargo business,” the DPE said. “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.”
It said the Brussels flight is proof that a restructured and well-managed airline operated in a professional and sustainable manner can support key economic sectors.
Cargo will be profitable – DPE
“This relaunch of the cargo business serves many purposes: increase the volumes of cargo transported by SAA into and out of SA; ensure that sovereign logistics capacity is sustained – just as when repatriation flights to bring back home South Africans stranded in various parts of the world under level 5 lockdown,” the DPE said.
“Over time cargo will become a profitable business. Partnerships with the private sector will be considered at the appropriate time. These flights will become commercially viable.”
It said that this flight carried goods to Brussels and will return with more cargo on the return leg to ensure that the overall operation is cost-effective.
The DPE said claims by Back and other disgruntled pilots that the flight was expensive are incorrect, and only serve to sabotage the relaunch of SAA Cargo.
SAAPA protecting extortionist agreement
The DPE said SAAPA is bent on discrediting the relaunch of flights at SAA as this is occurring without their members, which the department added are a minority of SAA pilots.
“They have raised unfounded allegations of safety in the last week regarding the preparations for vaccine repatriation flight,” the DPE said.
“They are now raising a new allegation about the financial viability of the flight.”
It argued that this is all being done to protect an 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.
“For the DPE and SAA Business Rescue Practitioners, the agreement is not only unlawful because it holds back the transformation and does not allow progress of black pilots as designated in the Employment Equity Act,” the department said.
It said this agreement will not carry on in future, adding that the attack by this group of pilots is short-sighted and self-destructive.
“We will not be blackmailed”
“By providing this kind unwarranted attack on SAA Cargo, this minority pilot group is holding SAA to hostage and attempting to destroy the very employer who could provide them with the continuation of their professional practise in years to come,” the DPE said.
“One can only marvel at the dishonesty of SAAPA who in the past argued that SAA would make money by running a cargo business, yet the association is now hell-bent on sabotaging the transportation of vaccine and other cargo back into the country.”
It said SAAPA has to decide whether to be part of the restoration of SAA or an obstruction to this end.
“The association should take heed of the exodus of their members that have chosen to organise separately and embrace the new SAA vision, and not be trapped in the mindless war of attrition being waged by SAAPA,” the DPE added.
“The DPE will not be blackmailed by SAAPA and their greedy habits.”