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A South African A340 on approach. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

South African Airways Set to Resume Flights This Summer

South African Airways (SAA) is hoping to resume flights in July or August, but the restart date will depend on how the Covid-19 pandemic progresses and whether the airline can resolve a pilot dispute, its chief executive said on Friday.

The state-owned airline was put into administration in December 2019 and has not flown commercially since September 2020, when its administrators mothballed all operations pending funding for a restructuring.

After receiving 7.8 billion rand (US$550 million) from the government, the airline was able to exit from administration after seventeen long months, but at that time it did not say when it would take to the skies again.

“As a draft or as a proposal we are looking at July-August 2021,” SAA’s Chief Executive Thomas Kgokolo said during a presentation to a parliamentary committee.

Currently, SAA is one of a handful of South African state companies reliant on government bailouts, placing the country’s budget under strain at a time of rapidly rising debt.

Ongoing Pilot Problem

On top of rising debt, SAA has also been dealing with an ongoing pilot problem for several months now, as the airline is in shortage of certified pilots.

More specifically, the airline needs specialized pilot instructors to train its already trimmed-down pilot squad to allow those pilots to re-qualify for line operations in terms of significant safety and technical standards.

This comes as a result of one of SAA’s aircraft had been halted in Brussels, as the pilots listed to fly the aircraft had not been properly certified and was in breach of civil aviation compliance standards.

The halting of the aircraft further highlights the SAA’s pilot problem which happened during the administration, whereby the airline had slimmed down its workforce from a hefty 4,700 to just a mere 1,000.

And it has still yet to settle the outstanding salary debt owed to many of its then and current employees.

Furthermore, the airline had initiated a pilot lockout during the administration – preventing some four hundred pilots from returning to work – as pilots had to cancel the previous regulating agreement and accept new terms of employment and wage scales.

As a result, SAA is still searching for certified pilots to fill the void created by the lockout before the airline can fully restart.

“However these dates come with some complexities, the issue of the COVID-19 is something that we still need to consider … and there is a complex matter that we are dealing with of pilots as well,” Kgokolo added in his presentation.

Kgokolo also said that SAA would meet again with its pilots on Friday to try to find a solution to a disagreement over outstanding salaries and layoff terms.

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