Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The only reason that SA still hangs on to its national airline

There can only be one logical reason that Government wants to hang on to South African Airways and that is because members of parliament and particularly cabinet ministers get free flights. There is absolutely no other logical motivation for continuously bailing out this sick flight of national fancy and grimly hanging on as though an end to SAA as a state entity would mean the end of the world for South Africa.

And when you think about it, only the top 10% of South African income earners travel by air, which means that Government is using taxpayer's money to subsidise rich people with SAA and Mango.

Flying the flag

The argument successive governments have used, not only in this country but in other developing nations, is that the presence at global airports of a national carrier creates confidence in that country among foreign tourists and investors.

Frankly, whether this is true or not is highly debateable. Mainly because every tin-pot regime seems to have a "national" airline. Which means that the only thing that will create any sort of confidence is in-flight service.

And even then, tourists and investors don't give a toss about whether the airline is state-owned or in private hands.

Huge improvement

In fact, British Airways actually improved enormously in terms of service and profitability once it was privatised. It is still regarded as the UK's "National Carrier."

In the US, two airlines, US Air and American Airlines could, at a stretch, be considered to be flying that nation's flag, in spite of neither being state owned.

So, why on earth does the SA Government continue to pour taxpayers money into the massive black hole SAA has created? Why hasn't the Government learnt a lesson from all these years of pitiful profit on rare occasions and huge losses more often than not?


Why on earth would Cabinet have to continually put up with bad management, fiscal indiscipline, embarrassingly inept security that is fast labelling the airline the world's number one drug carrier and heaven knows how many more embarrassing hassles, when it would be the easiest thing in the world to sell the whole messy thing lock, stock and barrel?

And they shouldn't even dream about claiming that the trades union would have a fit. I reckon that by now even the unions would see that their workers would be better off with SAA in private hands.

One just has to look at the performance, both in terms of in flight service and economics of a company such as Comair. Surely one of the country's most successful airline operations.


Comair, I am sure, could take over the running of SAA and have it back into profits and running a service that we can be proud of, in no time flat.

Frankly, South African Airways is more of an embarrassment to the country than something that flies our flag with pride.

It is time that Government stopped fixating on the terrible possibility of losing out on free flights and started thinking about the greater good of the nation.

Flog SAA while it still vaguely means something and not wait until there just simply isn't anymore taxpayers' money to bail it out and it collapses in a heap.