If pigs had wings
They would fly better than SA Airways
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.