If pigs had wings

They would fly bet­ter than SA Air­ways

Finweek English Edition - - Private Buy - SHAUN HAR­RIS shaunh@fin­week.co.za

IT’S A QUES­TION I’ve pon­dered while wait­ing in the frus­trat­ingly long queue try­ing to check in at an air­port. Or dur­ing the long wait at the other side, with that sink­ing feel­ing that your suit­case isn’t go­ing to pop out of the hatch on to the con­veyor belt. Which is worse: SA Air­ways or Air­ports Com­pany South Africa?

If we ran (and per­haps we should) a worst com­pany of the year rank­ing, both would be top con­tenders. What dou­bles the mis­ery for air trav­ellers is that they meet both of those en­ter­prises at the same time. When my para­noia gets the bet­ter of me, I sus­pect SAA and Acsa are in ca­hoots. What bet­ter way to de­flect your de­fi­cien­cies than to team up with an or­gan­i­sa­tion as bad as you are?

Now we have the al­le­ga­tion in Busi­ness Times that SAA boss Khaya Ngqula earns an ex­tra R68 000/month or so as a “re­ten­tion bonus” for his ef­forts in pi­lot­ing the State air­line back to prof­itabil­ity. He re­port­edly de­nies that, his hu­man re­sources GM re­port­edly says he does, along with lesser amounts to 126 other SAA man­agers. But de­spite the con­fu­sion at SAA over that point, Ngqula is hand­somely re­warded for his ef­forts, to the tune of more than R5m/ year without his al­leged monthly bonus.

But we shouldn’t be too harsh on the poor man. I un­der­stand he has an ex­pen­sive life­style to main­tain. And why all the fuss about whether the air­line is prof­itable or not? It can al­ways call on its (only) share­holder – cen­tral Gov­ern­ment – to bail it out. As it is – for what I think is the fourth time since Ngqula be­came boss – it wants R5,7bn this time. Makes you feel good to know your taxes are well spent.

How­ever, SAA and I have a lit­tle bit of a his­tory. They had me locked up overnight for ap­par­ently threat­en­ing to hi­jack an air­plane. The em­i­nently wise mag­is­trate threw the case out of court. But if SAA cared about what I write (and I don’t think they do) I’d prob­a­bly be ac­cused of bias. Not true. And to show why I think SAA is such a ter­ri­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion, I’ll re­fer to its lat­est set of fi­nan­cial fig­ures. Af­ter all, num­bers don’t lie.

Well, maybe that’s not true. SAA’s creative ac­coun­tants (at least some­body has a sense of hu­mour there) claimed a R123m net op­er­at­ing “profit”. Col­league Chimwemwe Mwanza called the profit “sus­pi­ciously cos­metic” ( Fin­week 24 July). The claimed profit was off­set by “re­struc­tur­ing costs” of R1,35bn – which looks sus­pi­ciously like a loss to me.

Which un­for­tu­nately brings us back to Ngqula’s al­leged monthly “re­ten­tion bonus”. I don’t know ex­actly what con­di­tions are at­tached to this bonus he de­nies he gets but it seems to have some­thing to do with mak­ing SAA prof­itable. He doesn’t have a chance. And while he con­tin­ues re­struc­tur­ing, SAA is los­ing pi­lots and es­sen­tial tech­ni­cal peo­ple in droves. That’s a chill­ing thought.

Gov­ern­ment must ei­ther go the Stal­in­ist route and con­tinue to pour money into the ail­ing al­leged na­tional car­rier or get a real busi­ness­man to run it. Or have a fire sale – and give SAA away to an air­line that can run it prop­erly and prof­itably. BACK IN THE CAR PARK THEN THERE’S ACSA. It also re­cently pub­lished its an­nual re­sults and they were hor­ri­ble. But not without rea­son: R5,2bn was spent on in­fra­struc­ture projects, part of the R22bn it wants to spend over the next few years.

But here’s the cun­ning part: Acsa isn’t much good at run­ning air­ports but is good at run­ning park­ing lots. And un­like SAA, it en­forces its mo­nop­oly on mo­torists to the full. We’re cap­tive park­ers at air­ports. What else do you do with your car? And it’s not cheap.

If you’re go­ing to be away overnight, Acsa park­ing starts to get ex­pen­sive. I’m not sure about its other air­ports, but at the aptly named Dur­ban In­ter­na­tional (from where I don’t be­lieve any in­ter­na­tional flights de­part or land) the short-term park­ing close to the ter­mi­nal charges ex­or­bi­tant fees. So if you are away overnight you head for the cheaper (but not cheap) long-term park­ing. Prob­lem is there’s al­ways such a short­age of park­ing space you end up far away from the ter­mi­nal. Not good when your flight is de­part­ing soon and you know you face a long queue, es­pe­cially if you’re fly­ing SAA.

I swear if they ever have an Olympic event for the 0,5km dash with a lap­top bag over your shoul­der and suit­case in hand, I’ll en­ter and stand a good chance of winning.

Acsa’s lat­est re­sults show that what it calls “non-aero­nau­ti­cal rev­enue” (a pretty sub­stan­tial R1,43bn) out­strips aero­nau­ti­cal rev­enue. Park­ing ac­counts for 23% of non­aero­nau­ti­cal rev­enue.

Which seems to sum up the point: Acsa isn’t an air­ports man­ager but an ex­pen­sive car guard.

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