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JOHANNESBURG — South African Airways has a laundry list of troubles and now it’s adding one more.
An open-ended strike by two of SAA’s unions starting Nov. 15 is forcing the cancellation of virtually all domestic, regional, and international flights over a two-day span, Nov. 15 and Nov. 16.
As the duration of the strike is unknown, SAA says it will assess the situation on an ongoing basis and passengers will be kept informed of all operational developments on a daily basis.
“It is expected that the strike would cause maximum disruptions to SAA operations; therefore, in the best interest of protecting our customers and their travel plans, we have taken the decision to cancel all domestic, regional, and international flights on Friday 15 November 2019 and Saturday 16 November 2019, with the exception of a few international flights. Customers are requested not to travel to their departure airport unless in possession of a rebooked itinerary,” says the airline in an update on its website, flysaa.com.
On Nov. 11 SAA informed its 5,146 employees that it was restructuring, a process it warned may lead to job losses.
Acting CEO Zuks Ramasia said SAA has faced numerous challenges over the past few years, “culminating in the current grave situation”.
According to Ramasia, the challenges include: funding and liquidity challenges; inability to borrow indefinitely without repaying debt; high interest costs on loans; volatile and fluctuating fuel price; currency volatility; insufficient revenue and cash generation in relation to operating cost; ageing fleet which is expensive to maintain and is fuel inefficient, making it difficult for SAA to compete in the marketplace; and aggressive international and regional competition for revenue stimulation and network optimization.
“In addition, SAA’s balance sheet has historically been weak and remains so despite recent substantial capital injections from the government. Our continued losses and reliance on government guarantees to borrow money from lenders, have increased the interest costs which impacts the operating cost of the business,” she said.
“We urgently need to address ongoing lossmaking position that has subsisted over the past years. That is why we are undergoing a restructuring process that seeks to ensure effective implementation of the accelerated Long Term Turnaround Strategy amidst the present prevailing operational challenges.”
Fighting back, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and South African Airways Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) said they had not been consulted about the restructuring process, an allegation SAA disputed.
The unions then announced they would embark on industrial action starting Nov. 15.
SAA says any strike endangers the future of the airline and threatens jobs.
“The strike is going to exacerbate rather than ameliorate our problem, and will result in a set of circumstances from which there may well be no recovery,” said Ramasia.
SAA then announced it had cancelled nearly all its domestic, regional and international flights scheduled for Nov. 15 and 16, saying its key objective is minimizing the impact of disruptions for its customers.
Here’s a look at the impact…
. SAA will operate flights from selected gateways on Nov. 15 back to SAA’s hub, O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg.
. Regional flights, which will operate on the morning of Nov. 15, will return from Maputo (SA147), Lusaka (SA067), Harare (SA025), Windhoek (SA073) and Accra (SA210).
. International flights, which will operate on the evening of Nov. 15, will return from Frankfurt (SA261), New York (SA204), Munich (SA265), Hong Kong (SA287), Perth (SA281), Washington (SA210) and London (SA235).
“SAA will spare no effort to work jointly with the labour unions to find solutions that accommodate the employee demands, safeguard the business and return operations to normal,” says the carrier.
SAA’s website is flysaa.com and updates will be provided here.
SAA’s U.S. contact centre, which also serves Canada, is in Fort Lauderdale and can be reached at 1-800-722-9675.