South African Airways is set to receive two new A350 jets in the coming weeks, but there are concerns about who will be providing oversight over the planes.
The Sunday Times reports that the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is insisting on fast-tracking inexperienced pilots to provide oversight of the new jets, delaying the cash-strapped airline’s ability to use the aircraft.
Information obtained by the paper shows that the selected pilots have limited operational experience and that neither have extensive time with the new planes.
A senior SAA pilot told the Sunday Times that providing theoretical Airbus training to inexperienced inspectors who could not fly jets was pointless.
“(The pilots) can do precisely nothing with this A350 rating. It’s like having a nurse oversee a brain surgeon performing an operation,” he said.
‘This was no more than a very expensive jolly for absolutely no rational reason that will benefit SAA.”
He added that the core problem is that the SACAA no longer employs anybody with the qualifications and experience to do the job properly.
In June 2019 the airline said that it will supplement its existing long-haul fleet with new Airbus A350-900 planes.
The aircraft will operate on one of SAA’s ultra-long-haul routes between Johannesburg and New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
“The introduction of these state-of-the-art aircraft to our fleet is an important step-change as we continue to make progress to transform our business and return the airline to financial sustainability in the shortest time possible,” said acting SAA chief executive officer, Zukisa Ramasia.
“These aircraft present an immediate opportunity to offer an improved product between Johannesburg and New York which will be accompanied by unmatched and consistent customer experience for both Business and Economy Class customers.”
Ramasia said that the A350 will have 246 economy class seats with the first six rows offering extra legroom to provide a more comfortable experience – especially on longer flights.
SAA said that it will take delivery of the aircraft in the second half of 2019 and that it plans to lease the planes for up to three years.
The airline last week received a cash boost of R5.5 billion from government, adding to numerous bailouts over the past several years.
Reuters reported that SAA has debt of about R12.7 billion, consisting of R9.2 billion of legacy debt and a R3.5 billion working capital facility provided by banks.