South African Airways Technical (SAAT) seems to be at risk of losing the business of its biggest external client, Comair, and with it a large chunk of the R703 million external revenue the national carrier’s subsidiary earned in 2016-17.
Comair, which operates the British Airways and kulula.com brands locally, would not confirm to Moneyweb that it is looking at alternative service providers for technical support.
However, at a recent media roundtable, Comair CEO Erik Venter said that although SAAT still has the skills to do the actual job of aircraft repairs and maintenance, its ability to procure the right spares in time and plan the execution of the task has collapsed.
As a result, Comair has basically taken over the process planning and procurement for its own aircraft, he said.
Venter further stated that Comair is working with Lufthansa to establish the technical support of the new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, the first of which Comair will receive in January next year.
He said the arrival of the new fleet will for the first time leave the airline with an aircraft on stand-by.
The maintenance of commercial aircraft is strictly regulated with certain prescribed operations to be done weekly and others at longer intervals.
The work has to be done mostly during the night and be completed in time for the aircraft to resume flying the next morning. Any delays in maintenance operations could impact an airline’s ability to depart on time, which is a crucial requirement for good service delivery.
According to Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) data British Airways Domestic recorded 79.3% 15-minute on-time performance during February this year, and 85.83% for the year to date. Kulula.com recorded 82.04% in February and 82.36% in the year to date. This lags behind the performance of rival FlySafair which achieved 89.98% during February and 92.14% so far this year.
FlySafair does most of its repairs and maintenance in-house.
SAA itself recorded 92.06% ontime performance in February and 91.26% for the year to date. Its low-cost subsidiary Mango recorded 79.7% in February and 77.39% for the year to date.
Although maintenance is only one factor that might impact ontime performance, Venter recently admitted: “Over the past couple of months Comair has experienced an unreasonable number of technical and operational delays. We are actively working with our internal and external stakeholders to address the underlying causes and return our on-time performance to the international industry-accepted level our customers are used to.”
He further said Comair will shortly be making announcements that will improve efficiency of its airline operations.
On the SAA website, SAAT is described as the biggest maintenance, repair and operating supply organisation in Africa.
In 2016-17 its revenue was R3.7 billion with R703 million of that from third parties. In a year in which the group showed a R3.7 billion operating and R5.4 billion net loss, SAAT showed a R239 million operating profit.