Pri­vate air­lines beg for gov­ern­ment res­cue

Re­quest a dilemma for gov­ern­ment

Sunday World - - Politics - By Ge­orge Mat­lala

Pri­vate air­lines in the coun­try, bat­tered by the out­break of the novel coro­n­avirus, have joined their sate-owned coun­ter­parts in a bid to be in­cluded in the gov­ern­ment’s Covid-19 res­cue pack­age.

The Air­lines As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Africa (Aasa) has writ­ten to the Na­tional Trea­sury ask­ing for ur­gent in­ter­ven­tion from gov­ern­ment in the air­line in­dus­try, fol­low­ing the pro­hi­bi­tion of air travel as part of mea­sures to curb the spread of the coro­n­avirus in the coun­try.

“Avi­a­tion will be a cru­cial role player in the South Africa re­cov­ery plan for busi­ness travel, tourism and trade and the econ­omy in gen­eral, be­ing an en­abler for the quick and ef­fi­cient trans­port of peo­ple and goods. Whilst many states around the world are con­sid­er­ing aid to sup­port their own air­lines, it is im­por­tant that South Africa does the same for its own,” Aasa chief ex­ec­u­tive Chris Zweigen­thal said in a let­ter dated April 17.

Aasa’s mem­bers in­clude pri­vately owned air­lines Co­mair, Ce­mair, Air­link, Safair, as well as state-owned SAA, SA Ex­press and Mango.

The air­line in­dus­try’s des­per­ate bid to get state aid comes as SAA bat­tles to get more funding to stay afloat, amid a busi­ness res­cue process and the out­break of coro­n­avirus.

Last week, Pub­lic En­ter­prises Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han re­jected a re­quest by busi­ness res­cue prac­ti­tion­ers at SAA for an ad­di­tional R10-billion to avoid the na­tional car­rier go­ing un­der.

Gord­han told the busi­ness res­cue prac­ti­tion­ers – Les Ma­tu­son and Siviwe Dong­wana – that re­spond­ing to the pan­demic had al­ready stretched gov­ern­ment fi­nances and that they should work within their avail­able re­sources.

A meet­ing be­tween Gord­han and the unions at SAA on Tues­day re­solved that “a new fi­nan­cially vi­able and com­pet­i­tive air­line” should be formed from the busi­ness res­cue process.

A source in the ANC privy to the dis­cus­sions on SAA said the ap­pli­ca­tion for state aid by pri­vate air­lines put the gov­ern­ment in a tight cor­ner.

“You can’t fund pri­vate air­lines when you have not res­cued your own air­line,” he said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The source said the meet­ing of the of­fi­cials of the ANC, SACP and Cosatu had re­solved that SAA should be re­struc­tured in­stead of liq­ui­dated.

Zweigen­thal said they had writ­ten to Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa last month and the Depart­ment of Trade and In­dus­try in their ef­forts to get gov­ern­ment to help the air­line in­dus­try.

The air­line in­dus­try has been hard hit by travel re­stric­tions aimed at curb­ing the spread of Covid-19.

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