The suspension of the airworthiness certificates of 14 SA Airlink airliners in December could possibly lead to the retrenchment of 50 pilots there, the trade union Solidarity says.
The layoff could affect more than 60% of the 80 pilots of the airline’s Jetstream 4100 fleet, 22 of whom have already been transferred to other SA Airlink fleets, the union said in a statement this morning.
“The possible retrenchments come after the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) suspended the airworthiness certificates of 14 airplanes in this specific fleet after four SA Airlink airplanes were involved in incidents since September 2009 and the airworthiness of the fleet could not be guaranteed.
“The CAA has several requirements for the reinstatement of the airplanes’ certificates and the inspection of the first four airplanes started this week already. It is expected that the certificates of these airplanes could be reinstated shortly.”
Solidarity spokesman Jaco Kleynhans says it is “not yet clear exactly how many pilots will eventually be retrenched”, because the decision depends largely on the CAA’s inspections.
He adds SA Airlink intended to issue formal Section 189 notices to 50 pilots on Monday, “but the notice was held back pending the expected positive inspection report”.
Meanwhile, Solidarity is already involved in talks with management in order to limit retrenchments at the company, he adds.
“The pilots and other employees of SA Airlink are incredibly loyal and extremely professional. However, it is a pity that the employees have to face this uncertainty. Solidarity is working hard to find alternatives for the trade union’s members and is bending over backwards to prevent more employees from losing their jobs,” Kleynhans says.
“However, it is the employer’s responsibility to do everything in its power to retain the employees and to resolve the problems at SA Airlink as quickly as possible.
“Solidarity is now insisting that, although aviation safety must be given preference, the CAA’s process be conducted thoroughly and finalised urgently, because the suspension of the certificates has massive cash flow implications for the company that put both the commercial viability of SA Airlink and the job security of employees in jeopardy.”
SA Airlink did not directly answer questions over the possible retrenchments, saying in written comment instead that the company is “focussed on addressing the airworthiness concerns relating to the Jetstream 4100 aircraft.”
Spokeswoman Karin Murray says the company is “working closely with the CAA, the engine manufacturer Honeywell, and the aircraft manufacturer BAE Systems in ensuring the integrity of our aircraft and specifically their Honeywell engines.
“SA Airlink expects that the Jetstreams will return to the skies again soon once their airworthiness has been confirmed,” she adds.
Replying obliquely to the retrenchment threat, she added “SA Airlink has had confidential internal discussions with its staff as regards the status of the Jetstreams and their likelihood of returning to service in the near future. These discussions have also addressed possible contingency plans.”
In the meantime the airline continues to operate a reduced flight schedule utilising its fleet jet aircraft. In addition to the Jetstream turboprops, SA Airlink operates five Embrear ERJ 135-LR – Regional Jet airliners as well as four BAE Systems BAE 146-200 jets and three BAE Systems AVRO RJ85 aircraft.