DPE defends SAA vaccine flight to Brussels

26th February 2021 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) has defended the recent flight by a South African Airways (SAA) aircraft to Brussels, in Belgium, to collect anti-Covid-19 vaccines. State-owned SAA is currently undergoing a controversial business rescue process. The flight was funded by the South African government and reportedly involved one of the airline’s four-engined Airbus A340 aircraft. 

In responding to criticisms that the flight had been a ‘vanity project’ and that it would have been cheaper to use available commercial flights, the DPE advanced two arguments. First, the vaccines were needed to protect the country’s health workers. Second, the flight was a “test relaunch” of SAA Cargo.

“Many airlines around the world, including Lufthansa and Ethiopian, have intensified their cargo businesses while the passenger loads declined sharply, in order to bring in revenue,” highlighted the DPE in its statement. “There will be many such flights by SAA in the months to come. This will also include transport of vaccines from manufacturers to African countries during the next months.”

The DPE further pointed out that the SAA flight to Brussels had carried cargo to the Belgian capital, and that on its return flight it would bring back other cargo, in addition to the vaccines. This was to make certain that the operation was cost-effective.

“This relaunch of the cargo business serves many purposes: increase the volumes of cargo transported by SAA into and out of (South Africa); ensure that sovereign logistics capacity is sustained – just as when (SAA) repatriation flights (were used) to bring back home South Africans stranded in various parts of the world under (South Africa’s 2020) level 5 lockdown,” asserted the DPE. “Over time cargo will become a profitable business. Partnerships with (the) private sector will be considered at the appropriate time. These flights will become commercially viable.”

The DPE particularly attacked the South African Airways Pilots Association (SAAPA) for its criticisms. SAAPA members have been locked-out of SAA since December 18 because of a contractual dispute.