New SAA CEO’s plan to save the company

Newly appointed South African Airways interim CEO Thomas Kgokolo has detailed his plans to return the struggling national carrier to operation.

Kgokolo’s appointment comes as a 15-month business rescue process of SAA, led by Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, nears completion.

Started in December 2019, the business rescue practitioners set out to return SAA to solvency following successive years of major financial losses due to gross mismanagement and rampant corruption.

Among their interventions, they cut the airline’s workforce down from 4,700 to 1,000 employees.

They also sought a R10.5 billion bailout from government to complete the airline’s restructuring, the majority of which has been received and used.

The business rescue practitioners have said the airline is now close to being solvent and liquid.

However, unlike competitors such as Kulula, British Airways, Lift, and Safair, SAA is yet to resume flights after initial lockdown measures which severely restricted travel.

It will now be up to Kgokolo to steer the airline towards a return to commercial operation.

Thomas Kgokolo

Kgokolo is the fifth CEO SAA has had in five years.

He is a qualified chartered accountant with an MBA from GIBS, where he has also served as a lecturer in corporate finance.

His experience includes 15 years of work in the public sector, and 10 years at a non-executive director level, including eight years at the Mineworkers Provident Fund.

He has also served as Audit Committee Member at the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC).

The Democratic Alliance, however, has pointed out that he possesses no experience in the airline industry.

The party wants Kgokolo to appear before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) to explain how he will ensure SAA publishes financial results – something which it has failed to do over the last three years.

Speaking during an interview on SABC News, Kgokolo emphasised that it would no longer be business as usual at the airline.

He said that the business rescue process had resulted in big cuts on expenses – including employee costs – which resulted in a “leaner” airline.

“It is not going to be easy, it’s going to require thinking out of the box. The way we used to do things in the past is not the way that we need to do things now as we go forward,” Kgokolo said.

Kgokolo said the business rescue process had resulted in big cuts on expenses – including employee costs – which has resulted in a “leaner” airline.

He said this would allow SAA to have a “fresh start”.

SAA aircraft Airbus

He outlined key initiatives on which SAA will embark to return to operation.

These included the following:

  • Providing training for pilots who have not flown recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ensuring aviation compliance is in order.
  • Improving operational efficiency to be more cost-effective.
  • Relooking aircraft being used to ensure they are fuel-efficient.
  • Ensuring corporate compliance is at the required level.
  • Filling executive vacancies.
  • Driving a “decent” marketing campaign to draw passengers.

Kgoloko added that he needed to restore the morale of a much-reduced SAA staff complement.

“My role is to make sure the energy is back, the momentum is back, and we make sure that we build a solid team combining those who remained with us and those that we can get on the market that are capable of taking us forward,” Kgokolo said.

Kgokolo recently also told The Daily Maverick that the refreshed airline could resume flights by July or August.

“Within the next two months, we will kickstart the charter flights,” he said.

Thomas Kgokolo interview

Click on the video below to listen to the full interview with SAA interim CEO Thomas Kgokolo on SABC News.

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New SAA CEO’s plan to save the company