South African Airways adds a new destination to its route network. Image ; AFP PHOTO/Ben Stansall (Photo by BEN STANSALL / AFP)

SAA ‘safety concerns’ being investigated by Aviation Authority

The South African Civil Aviation Authority says that there is no need for alarm.


South African Airways adds a new destination to its route network. Image ; AFP PHOTO/Ben Stansall (Photo by BEN STANSALL / AFP)

Aircraft operated by South African Airways (SAA) will be inspected by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) after striking unions raised serious ‘safety concerns’.

As the embattle national carrier attempts to recoup its losses emanating from debilitating strike action, the SACAA has confirmed that it will be conducting spot checks on aircraft to ascertain the validity of unions’ statements.

Numsa says to fly SAA is to “gamble with your life”

After initiating a national strike which saw SAA flights grounded over the weekend, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) added fuel to fire by saying:

“We are warning South African citizens who are flying SAA to change their flights because to fly SAA while we are on strike is to gamble with your life.”

According to Numsa spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, SAA has chosen to hire ‘inexperienced’ technical staff to facilitate safety protocols and maintenance procedures while permanent employees are on strike. SAA acting-CEO Zukisa Ramasia has rubbished the union’s claims and has threatened both Numsa and SACCA with legal action should they refuse to withdraw their statements.

Hlubi-Majola argues that “every word of what we said is true” and has rejected the call to withdraw.

Threat of a secondary strike

The deadlock is set to intensify, following failed engagements. On Monday, unions announced that they would be initiating a secondary strike which would effectively cripple the aviation industry in South Africa.

In addition to a fierce wage dispute, unions are protesting SAA’s restructuring strategy which would see almost 1000 employees lose their jobs in early 2020.

SAA argues that in order to avert complete collapse, the only option left is to trim its bloated workforce and streamline its operational capacity. In addition, the ailing national carrier has pleaded with government for urgent financial assistance.

Aviation Authority’s initial findings

On Tuesday morning, the South African Civil Aviation Authority issued a statement concerning the impasse and, specifically, claims of hazardous operating conditions. SACAA spokesperson, Phindiwe Gwebu, said:

“We’ve requested details [from SAA] about the personnel that are working on line maintenance as well as cabin crew. There is no imminent danger to passengers that are flying.

Of 380 engineers only 92 are on strike. There is only one quality manager on strike and they [SAA] have got about 40 of those. So, when we look at the numbers, we don’t see a reason for alarm.”

Gwebu added that the spot checks were initiated to provide the public with assurance and that SACAA investigators would scrutinise the qualifications of every employee involved in the airline’s safety sector.  

The Aviation Authority is expected to produce an updated report containing its findings later on Tuesday.