SAA’s vanity vaccine flight to Brussels
South African Airways. Photo: SA News

The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it will submit a parliamentary question to Pravin Gordhan, the Minister of Public Enterprises, in order to obtain full details of the costs and reasons for the use of a large SAA jetliner to fly to Brussels to collect a small consignment of apparently only 80,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses. UPDATE: Clarification on SAA Cargo Flight to Brussels from Public Enterprises Dept.

“It would clearly have been considerably cheaper to use the services of a normal commercial freight carrier from Brussels (rather) than the estimated cost of some R5.5 million of sending an empty jetliner all the way to Belgium and to return with a payload that could apparently be carried in a one-ton bakkie,” said Alf Lees – DA Member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts – in a statement on Friday.

According to Nonny Mashika, Deputy Director-General for Aviation at the Department of Public Enterprises, the flight to Brussels was carrying freight. However, says Lees, that freight seems to have not been of a commercial nature and consisted of spare parts for the aircraft being used, in order to avoid delays if the aircraft needs repairs en route or in Brussels.

Lees claims the flight “clearly” had two main purposes:

  1. To pass more taxpayer funds to SAA as yet another bailout; and
  2. To create an event to “relaunch” SAA into the sky.

“Whilst the estimated amount of R5.5 million that the Brussels flight will cost the taxpayer is relatively small when compared with the R31 billion bailouts over the current three years contained in the SAA business rescue plan, it must be compared with the desperate needs of businesses failing and jobs being lost as a result of the ANC imposed and irrational Covid-19 lockdown regulations,” said Lees.

“We anticipate that the arrival of the SAA vanity vaccine flight from Brussels on Saturday, 27 February 2021, will be greeted with great fanfare and media attention. The message will clearly be that, despite SAA apparently not being in a position to legally fly any aircraft, the airline will be touted as being “back in business.””

In an update on its website this week, SAA said that national and regional flights are suspended until end April, and international flights until end October (similarly to Qantas’ announcement on international travel yesterday).

SAA flights undertaken without full air traffic compliance

Lees alleged in the statement that the SAA flights to and from Brussels are “possibly unsafe” and being undertaken without following all air traffic regulations. According to the DA, some of these contraventions are:

  • Flight crew that was apparently not given the legally required training by an accredited training facility. They were supposedly given training at huge cost, apparently exceeding R100 000, at an unaccredited training facility owned by an SAA pilot who is not locked out by the Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs). The accredited SAA flight training facility could not be used as the pilots accredited to do the training have been locked out by the BRPs.
  • Although apparently only required for passenger flights, the obligatory test flight of the aircraft used was not undertaken as all SAA accredited test pilots have been locked out. What this means is that any “relaunch” of SAA passenger flights will be a farce unless the accredited pilots are reinstated.

“A great deal of pressure was allegedly brought to bear on Poppy Khoza, Director of Civil Aviation (SACAA), to issue exemptions for the SAA Brussels flight and she apparently issued 13 exemptions that made the SAA Brussels flight possible,” claims Lees.

“Whilst the first touted SAA flight to fetch vaccines was prevented from being undertaken for regulatory reasons, the SAA Brussels flight is apparently being undertaken despite the reasons for the first flight apparently being blocked seemingly existing for the Brussels flight. We have been told that the SAA General Manager who correctly blocked the first SAA vaccine flight was severely reprimanded by Minister Gordhan for doing so.”

Lees said the PFMA provisions have also been ignored in awarding the tender for the Brussels vaccine trip to SAA.

The DA will submit parliamentary questions to Minister Gordhan, although says it does not anticipate a full disclosure.

UPDATE: Clarification on SAA Cargo Flight to Brussels from Public Enterprises Dept.