THERE is no shortage of ideas on how to fix the perennially dysfunctional state-owned South African Airways (SAA), according to Department of Public Enterprises director-general Tshediso Matona.
Consultants at the airline have completed as many as nine turnaround strategies, studies and reports in the past six years.
The department is co-ordinating a task team comprising internal aviation specialists, the CEOs of SAA, South African Express and Mango, and the airlines’ boards. The team is to draft a turnaround strategy for the troubled airline before the end of March.
SAA has been asking for billions of rand from the government to help it stay afloat. The turnaround strategy is one of the conditions the Treasury imposed for the R5bn guarantee extended to the airline late last year.
"Everyone acknowledges that the fundamental problem with SAA is its weak capital base," Mr Matona said. It was likely that SAA would require a substantial cash injection to stabilise the business and allow it to acquire the new aircraft it needed for its short-and long-haul routes.
"When I convened the first meeting of the group I was struck by the depth of knowledge and the understanding of what the problems are with the airline," Mr Matona said in an interview last week.
Two important themes had emerged from the work of the task team. Important for the success of any turnaround strategy was leadership stability.
"A view that has emerged very strongly is that there have been strategies and plans but the implementation of strategies has been a problem," Mr Matona said. "Another major problem for the airline has been leadership instability."
The instability dated back to when former CEO Khaya Ngqula headed the airline between 2004 and 2009. Since then the airline has had three CEOs, including the current acting CEO, Vuyisile Kona.
Mr Matona said the department had placed adverts in an effort to attract applicants to take over as the head of the airline. "The sooner we can get someone and get them working with the team, the better ."
Public enterprises spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said the net would be cast wide for the best person to run the airline, and would include South African and international candidates.
Mr Matona said the second important theme was the need for an integrated approach to aviation by the state. "What we desperately need, and what any turnaround strategy has to establish, is a whole-of-state approach.
"The sustainability and viability of SAA is dependent on a range of players in the state working together to create the right environment."
Mr Matona will over the next two weeks meet the directors-general of departments needed to create an environment that will help SAA succeed. These departments include home affairs, trade and industry, tourism, the Treasury and transport.
"We need this interaction across the departments that co-ordinate trade and investment in the country, tourism and policy on transport. The Department of Transport is also the shareholder of the infrastructure (airports)," Mr Matona said.
The strategy had to be submitted to the Cabinet by March after it had been presented to the ministers of finance and public enterprises. "The greatest interrogator (of the strategy) will be the Treasury."
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