South African Airways (SAA) is in urgent need of pilots.
More specifically, it needs specialised pilot instructors to train its slimmed-down pilot contingent to enable those pilots to requalify for line operations in terms of the relevant technical and safety standards.
SAA’s own specialised pilot instructors are among the pilots who have been locked out of the airline since December.
The airline’s emergency training procurement request appears to have been issued on Monday (March 8).
The document calls for replies “by latest tomorrow (Tuesday 09 March 2021)”. However, it also requests recipients to confirm their availability for “the weekend of 06 March 2021”.
Procurement request withdrawn
The attempt to outsource training for flight-deck crew has however been withdrawn as it would violate Section 76 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA), which restricts employers from replacing employees during periods of a protected strike or lockout.
The withdrawal follows correspondence from lawyers representing the SAA Pilots’ Association (Saapa) sent on Tuesday (March 9) to the airline’s business rescue practitioners (BRPs) Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson. Saapa’s lawyers explained that the move by the airline to procure external services is in breach of the LRA.
On Wednesday (March 10), the rescue practitioners notified Saapa in an email which Moneyweb has seen that SAA and its BRPs had withdrawn the procurement request “and that no contract has been concluded in terms of that procurement request”.
However, according to Dongwana and Matuson, the withdrawal does not mean the rescue practitioners admit that the procurement of external pilot services would constitute a breach of the LRA.
“They are desperate now as they have locked out [the] pilots they need to do certain training,” says Saapa chair Grant Back.
In its procurement request document sent to various service providers, SAA explains that it is in urgent need of required pilot training from external Aviation Training Organisations (ATO) for Crew Resource Management (CRM), Safety Management Systems (SMS) and Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) courses. The training would be provided to 15 pilots (seven first officers and eight captains), according to the document.
This training is essential in ensuring that flight crew maintain proficiency in handling airplane operations.
“SAA does not currently have access to any specialised pilot instructors to conduct CRM, SMS and UPRT training, which is required to be completed by all pilots towards requalification for line operations in terms of the SACCA [South African Civil Aviation Authority] Regulations (CARs) and [Civil Aviation] Technical Standards (CATS),” SAA said.
The training facilities would be provided by SAA.
The costs of the training would be provided by the cash-strapped airline, according to its rescue practitioners’ spokesperson Louise Brugman.
Saapa members have been locked out of the airline since December, pending the cancellation of the contentious Regulatory Agreement. They have also not received a salary since March last year, when the airline ceased commercial operations.
Earlier this month, the Labour Court dismissed Saapa’s application to have the lockout declared unlawful.
Brugman said the lockout will be lifted once Saapa agrees to terminate the Regulatory Agreement which “is necessary for the long-term sustainability of a restructured airline”.
Moneyweb understands that SAA’s urgent need to train pilots relates to an SAA flight that is scheduled to fetch another batch of Covid-19 vaccines from Belgium later this month.
The airline previously fetched 80 000 Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines from Brussels in February.
According to people familiar with the matter, the flight crew who conducted the flight that fetched the vaccines in February received emergency exemptions for training and were able to operate the aircraft.
The Department of Public Enterprises was unable to respond to queries at the time of publication. This article will be updated once a response is received.