‘Lit­tle im­pact’ on ser­vices as SAA cabin staff, ground crew strike

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - AU­DREY D’AN­GELO

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.

Dream­liner night­mare

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.

Heathrow con­tro­versy

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.

PIC­TURE: LEON NICHOLAS

STILL FLY­ING: While SAA deals with staff strike ac­tion and salary ne­go­ti­a­tions, it hasn’t dis­rupted flight ser­vices, says the air­line.

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