South African Airways remains in trouble


Eighty years after its creation, loss-making South African Airways (SAA) battles with an ageing fleet and a weak national currency.

“It’s not a secret that our balance sheet is very weak,” chief financial officer Wolf Meyer admitted.

“There are currently discussions with the national Treasury, we hope that we get good news soon on the capitalisation,” he said.

State intervention is key to SAA’s survival and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is expected to shed more light on saving the airline during his annual budget speech in parliament later in February.

In the meantime, the government has extended a two-year guarantee of Rands 5m issued in 2012 in exchange for a vast restructuring.

When that guarantee was first approved, irate opposition parties accused the government of wasting taxpayer money, while some companies said it was distorting the market.

A year and a half later the turn-around strategy still has not been implemented and main opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) has renewed its call to privatise the carrier.

On January 29th, SAA reported improved results for the financial year that ended in 2013, but the situation remains bleak.

Though better than the R1.3 bn loss a year before, the R991m operating loss was still a glaring indicator of existing problems.

The results were released months behind schedule because talks between the treasury and the actual shareholder, the ministry of public enterprises, dragged on, said Meyer.

Despite the losses, the 13.5% increase in revenues indicates market potential even in the face of aggressive competition from companies based in the Gulf.

But the company warned of rising fuel costs and the rand’s slide against the dollar, which ate into earnings. On the international front, SAA, which is member of the Star Alliance group, is building a name for itself, Meyer said.

“We are very proud of our Africa growth strategy, it’s really working well,” he said.

Air traffic across the continent is soaring and SAA has toiled to build from its traditional European routes, though with mixed success.

SAA has halted plans to buy around 20 new aircraft, but will still acquire 20 Airbus A320s which will be delivered by 2017.

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