Durban – The KwaZulu-Natal government has labelled the move to cancel SAA flights in and out of Durban economic sabotage.
Nomusa Dube-Ncube, MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs, said the decision would devastate the province’s economy.
From Saturday, local and international routes to Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London will end and those to Cape Town will be reduced.
The announcement was made by Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, the joint business rescue practitioners for the embattled airline, earlier this month.
On Friday, Dube-Ncube said: “The KZN Economic Council, KZN Growth Coalition, various chambers, stakeholders in the tourism industry and many other sectors of our economy fear KZN’s vision of becoming a Gateway to Africa and the world would never be realised.”
She said from statistics released by the Airports Company of South Africa and the Dube Trade Port, King Shaka International Airport was vital in bringing cash flow to the province.
“About 6.26million passengers arrived at King Shaka International Airport, an increase of 6.5% compared to 2018. Overall passenger numbers grew by 11.4% in December to just over 616000. From that 616000 about 570000 were domestic passengers and only 9% were international passengers.”
It was unclear if the figures referred only to passengers travelling on SAA or included all flights.
Dube said she would support premier Sihle Zikalala in his efforts to open discussions with the national government to prevent the decision.
Zikalala had called for an urgent meeting between the provincial government and SAA.
“While we understand SAA faces financial difficulties and is in business rescue we feel cuts are being made in the wrong places.
“Durban’s King Shaka International Airport has repeatedly been named South Africa’s fastest-growing airport,” said Zikalala.
Tlali Tlali, SAA spokesperson, said the planned cancellations were an initiative to support the airline’s transformation into a sustainable and profitable business.
“As an airline, we have to implement the decisions made as they are made with our best interest in mind. As it stands, flights will remain cancelled.”
Louise Brugman, the spokesperson for the business rescue practioners, said the flights were cancelled on the basis that they were loss-making.
“But flights would still be available through Mango, which would not be affected by the changes.
“All customers booked on any cancelled international and regional routes will receive a full refund. Customers booked on cancelled domestic flights will be re-accommodated on Mango flights,” she said.
She added that Sao Paulo and Munich flights had been set to be suspended on Saturday but had become profitable and the decision was postponed.
“Sao Paulo will now be cancelled on March 31 and Munich on April 21. There is constant oversight and the decision-making process is fluid. Should a route be found to be profitable then it will be reopened.”
Brugman revealed that SAA faced a substantial leave liability.
“Staff are not taking leave. We have given them options and we need staff to take leave as it reduces costs. The problem comes when they all claim for their unused leave. But even though taking leave reduces liability costs, their salaries would not be reduced.”
However, the possibility of job losses has not been ruled out and “every effort” was being taken to limit the impact.
“Our intention is to restructure the business and retain the most jobs. This will help provide a platform for a viable and sustainable future. However, a reduction in the number of employees will, unfortunately, be necessary,” said Brugman.
Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, the spokesperson for the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, was against the idea of job losses.