PILOTS reportedly get five-star accommodation and generous travel benefits‚ at a cost of R697m a year for ailing South African Airways.

The Citizen newspaper reported on Friday that pilots are accommodated in hotels of the highest global standards and entitled to free family travel on a preferential basis to normal fee-paying passengers in business class.

The report quoted an SAA insider as saying: "It gets worse. If a pilot gets divorced‚ the previous wife gets the benefits and the new girlfriend gets the benefit at the same time."

Pilots are also entitled to 90 days’ sick leave‚ which may be extended to 180 days in a one-year rolling cycle‚ the Citizen said. Management‚ meanwhile‚ is entitled to 36 working days’ sick leave in a three-year cycle.

South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu said pilots were entitled to two-year sabbaticals while their jobs were guaranteed on their return‚ allowing them to work for another airline during that time.

This issue was also highlighted in September last year‚ when SAA board chairwoman Dudu Myeni said in an internal staff memo that salaries paid to SAA pilots were "exorbitant and unaffordable".

Myeni said SAA pilots were a "paltry" 12% of the carrier’s total workforce in SA, but accounted for more than 40% of the airline’s salary bill.

Fat salaries for pilots are not unique to SA.

Bloomberg reported recently that with its aviation sector booming‚ China is throwing money at these highly skilled professionals. Chinese airlines need to hire almost 100 pilots a week for the next 20 years to meet rocketing travel demand.

"Facing a shortage of candidates at home‚ carriers are dangling lucrative pay packages at foreigners with cockpit experience‚" said Bloomberg. Pilots from emerging markets‚ including Brazil and Russia‚ could quadruple their salaries in China.

TMG Digital