‘Little impact’ on services as SAA cabin staff, ground crew strike
WHEN this column was being written, SAA was facing disruption of some of its flights by a strike by 4 000 ground handling and cabin staff belonging to the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union, due to start on Thursday. It was announced late on Wednesday afternoon in protest against SAA unilaterally implementing a pay rise of 6.23 percent of basic salaries and no rise in additional allowances for meals, medical aid and housing. The union had demanded a rise of 8.33 percent in both basic salaries and allowances.
The strike did start early on Thursday morning but a spokesman for SAA told me that by 9am it had had “little impact”, with other SAA staff working normally.
It has been pointed out that we are facing a rise in our cost of living this year and there is justification for many requests for higher pay. But SAA, like all airlines, is cash-strapped and subject to political interference that causes it to serve some unprofitable destinations with an inadequate fleet – although its new codesharing agreement with Middle Eastern airline Etihad will help it to some extent.
Under the agreement, the two airlines will carry each other’s passengers on certain routes, enabling them to sell tickets on routes they do not fly, in exchange for a portion of the fare.
Satawu may not have taken into consideration the fact that SAA asked staff to be reasonable in pay negotiations in exchange for a promise not to lay anyone off, as some companies are doing.
SAA is expanding its route network in Africa, where air travel is forecast to grow rapidly as the economies of several countries improve, particularly in those where oil is being discovered, and more foreign airlines are flying in. But the latest figures released by the International Air Transport Association show that travel between African countries is not yet growing at the hoped-for rate – although this may come.
SAA’s growth in serving this market, aimed at dominating it before others move in, is sound in the long term. But meanwhile it may prove expensive and lossmaking.
Costs at African airports are higher than elsewhere and Erik Venter, chief executive of Comair – whose judgement is respected in the industry – tells me that although his airline is looking for opportunities in Africa, the growing middle class in most countries is not yet earning enough to be able to fly to any great extent.
A fire that broke out in an empty parked Ethiopian Airlines Boeing Dreamliner at London’s Heathrow Airport last weekend is being treated as a serious matter and an investigation is being carried out by various authorities. But it seems that the overheating of the Dreamliner’s lithium batteries, which caused the aircraft to be withdrawn from service for three months last year while Boeing technicians worked frantically to solve the problem, was not responsible. The fire broke out at the rear of the plane, near the galley, and there was scorching outside.
Other airlines are still flying the Dreamliner and British Airways, which recently took delivery of the first two it has ordered, is putting them into service.
Airbus’s new A350 Extra Wide Bodied aircraft is still at the testing stage before coming into service and also has lithium batteries. But Airbus announced last year that although it would continue to use them for testing flights it would revert to cadmium batteries in the actual passenger flights.
The airline industry is protesting against high charges at London’s Heathrow Airport and there is controversy about its need for additional runways. Now it has been suggested that the airport should be replaced by others out of the city, such as Stansted, or new ones in the Thames Estuary where aircraft would take off over the sea, causing less noise disturbance for people living in the vicinity. It should be interesting to see what happens in coming months.
Award for Lufthansa
German airline Lufthansa has won an annual award for airline technology for various innovations including a towing tractor steered by a pilot by remote control.
STILL FLYING: While SAA deals with staff strike action and salary negotiations, it hasn’t disrupted flight services, says the airline.