SAA routes cut fallout intensifies

A man cycles past aircraft in the SAA fleet parked at OR Tambo International Airport.
A man cycles past aircraft in the SAA fleet parked at OR Tambo International Airport.
Image: Getty Images

FlySafair will soon be adding a new aircraft to its fleet and there are strong indications it will seek to fill the huge gap left by SAA in the domestic air travel market.

While that announcement will be welcomed, it will do little to lift the spirits of thousands of travellers who now will have to make alternate arrangements because of SAA’s decision to cut flights to Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban from the end of this month.

The business sector will be hit hardest, particularly since business leaders have been calling for more flights — not fewer — as a catalyst for economic growth.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, Eastern Cape Chamber of Business  and the Border-Kei Chamber of Commerce  all criticised  the planned cuts, while KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala called for an urgent meeting between with SAA.

The decision by SAA’s business rescue practitioners to cancel 11 routes and restructure others  has also infuriated trade unions.

The SAA Pilots Association said it was “blindsided” by the announcement, while the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) said the business rescue practitioners had acted in flagrant disregard of the Labour Relations Act.

It was announced on Thursday that the airline would cancel all domestic flights, except for a reduced service to Cape Town, and some international and regional flights, on February 29 in a bid to further cut costs.

Pilots Association chair Grant Back said labour was not consulted or informed about the changes before the announcement.

“The pilots remain committed to achieving a successful restructuring of SAA, but are unable to contribute if we are not properly consulted and engaged during this process,” Back said.

Numsa and Sacca said there was no rational basis for the cancellation of routes, and that the decision would have a devastating effect on workers and their families.

“We remain committed to doing everything legally possible to reverse these unlawful retrenchments.”

FlySafair’s head of sales and distribution, Kirby Gordon, said  the airline was looking closely at the void left by SAA.

“FlySafair has a very strong presence into the Eastern Cape connecting both [East London] and [Port Elizabeth] to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban,” Gordon said.

“We do have a new aircraft arriving in SA in the next week or two.

“It will still need to be registered and should be added to the operating fleet in the next month or so. A schedule has already been published for that aircraft, but the changing market dynamics could open new opportunities,” Gordon said.

SAA will close services from Johannesburg to Abidjan via Accra, Entebbe, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Luanda, Munich, Ndola and São Paulo.

On the domestic route network, it will cancel flights to Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth.

Domestic routes operated by Mango will not be affected.

Louise Brugman, on behalf of the business rescue partners, said customers booked on cancelled domestic flights would be accommodated by Mango.

Eastern Cape Chamber of Business president Vuyisile Ntlabati said the chamber had called for more flights to the province, but instead flights had been cancelled.

“Now that they are scaling down, the turnaround time is affected,” he said.

“For instance, I am in Limpopo now; I had to sleep in Johannesburg because I couldn’t get an earlier flight from East London.”

Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber CEO Nomkhita Mona said the decision would have major repercussions for cargo, business and leisure tourism, and  travel in general.

Border-Kei Chamber of Business executive director Les Holbrook said: “Our aspiration is to be a well-connected city and it doesn’t help us if our primary carrier is at a point of business rescue.”

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