South African Airways interim CEO Philip Saunders is set to leave the airline.

This was confirmed to Rapport by SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali, who noted that Saunders’s contract would not be renewed at the end of this month.

His departure would mean Saunders becomes the eleventh CEO the embattled state carrier has had in 11 years.

He previously served as Chief Operating Officer and took over as CEO in March 2020 when former interim incumbent Zuks Ramasia resigned.

Tlali did not provide a reason for Saunders’ departure but said that the company was grateful for his contribution to the airline.

Rapport stated that Saunders’s position as interim CEO was apparently never formalised, and the board therefore decided not to renew his contract in order to avoid possible legal repercussions.

Struggling to take flight

The airline is yet to resume operations following the grounding of its flights in early 2020.

However, the government has remained adamant that SAA will return to the skies as a restructured carrier with fewer staff and destinations after its business rescue is concluded.

Voluntary severance packages were offered to employees in a bid to bring staff numbers down, and only 1,000 employees will remain to start the new airline.

This will see 2,700 SAA staff lose their jobs, including a large number of its pilots. As part of the restructuring, SAA’s current complement of 625 pilots will be cut to 88.

A previous report from The Sunday Times said that the launch of the new SAA would take place in January 2021.

While government has dedicated the R10.5-billion in funding needed to proceed with the restructuring, the airline is also currently embroiled in a fight over the salaries of certain employees which have not been paid since March.

According to unions representing SAA workers, the airline’s business rescue practitioners are only offering to pay three months of salaries and a 13th cheque as opposed to the eight months remuneration that they are owed.

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