Johannesburg - Ultra-long flights to New York by SA Airways (SAA) show "a flagrant disregard" for the safety of passengers and crew members, the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) said on Wednesday.
"Satawu condemns the exemption granted to SAA to operate ultra-long flights," said spokesperson Zenzo Mahlangu.
He expressed Satawu's "disappointment and fury" at the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the department of transport for authorising SAA's direct flights from South Africa to New York.
Mahlangu said that these flights exceeded the allowable period for safe operation of flights, known as the flight and duty period.
The CAA granted SAA exemption from this period, on condition that the flight safety training manual be evaluated and approved, and that proof of fair flight rostering practices was supplied.
Satawu said that the latter had not been met.
"We will vigorously campaign for the nullification of that irregular exemption granted in favour of SAA," Mahlangu said.
Mahlangu said that Satawu believed that corruption and collusion could be behind the exemption.
SAA's spokesperson Dileseng Koetle said that the airline "strongly rejected" these suggestions and that they were unfounded.
"SAA would not undertake any operation that would put its customers at risk. Our decision to operate directly from Johannesburg to New York from 1 May 2011 was in full compliance with CAA regulations," she said.
This decision was undertaken to cater for customers who preferred to take a direct flight and had involved over 12-months of pre-planning before the new flight was undertaken.
"...The implementation of this route is in line with global market trends, and keeps the airline competitive with other international premier airlines that have respected safety records...," Koetle said.
She said that the flights would contribute to South Africa's, and the continent's, long term economic growth.
SAA was open to discuss Satawu's concerns, Koetle said.
Comment from the CAA and the department of transport could not immediately be obtained.