SOUTH African Airways – once a giant of African aviation – is back in the intercontinental market, but there are still doubts about its financial viability.
It had disappeared from our skies altogether in September 2020, having fallen victim not just to Covid but also another disease that has plagued some other state-run carriers – corruption and mismanagement.
It may be on the verge of a sale that would see a private consortium take a majority share in the business.
However, its handling of finances has recently come in for severe criticism by the country’s public spending watchdog.
In a scathing report, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke said that the financial statements SAA had drawn up dating from the 2018-19 financial year lacked credibility. The airline recorded losses in the four years from 2018 of a staggering $1.2bn (£1bn).
But interim chief executive officer (CEO) John Lamola said this did not reflect the current position of the airline, which is under new management.
He said the situation had improved in the most recent financial year, with the airline now “running on financial resources generated from its own operations”.
Towards the end of last year, in a sign that SAA wants to be a major player again, it reopened its routes from Cape Town and Johannesburg to São Paulo, Brazil. And now it is selling tickets for flights to Perth, Australia.
These are the airline’s first long-haul destinations in three years. It did return in September 2021, making a surprise profit serving a limited number of African destinations after coming out of voluntary business rescue.
This was a process which saw the airline placed under the temporary supervision of experts who were asked to return the company to financial health. They pared back the fleet from 44 aircraft to six and focused on the African market.