SA Express Logo (Supplied)
In a parliamentary briefing on Thursday, finance minister Tito Mboweni confirmed reports of stolen aircraft equipment from South African Airways Technical (SAAT).
He briefed parliament's standing committees on finance and appropriations, as well as their select committees, on the medium term budget policy statement.
Mboweni told them that massive aircraft equipment had been disappearing from SAAT – a subsidiary of SAA - which has been set up to service aircraft.
"I was told a story by the CEO of SAA [Zuks Ramasia] which boggles the mind. She says a whole spare engine disappeared from SAA Technical. This big thing, how did it leave the airport? It boggles the mind … This is stuff of the movies, man," Mboweni said.
"An aircraft part was lost for ideological reasons'. The ideology of what? The ideology of theft under the guise of Marxism,"Mboweni said, before being called to order by MPs.
Last week, some SAA, Kulula and British Airways planes were grounded after an inspection conducted by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) at SAAT. According to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, one of the reasons that SACAA conducted the audit at SAAT was to inspect the loss and theft of aircraft parts, amid reports of an organised crime syndicate that is operating at the organisation. Mbalula said the grounding was a precautionary measure taken by airlines to ensure the safety of passengers.
Mboweni confirmed on Thursday that government is talking to potential equity partners for SAA, and has agreed to repay R9.2bn of SAA's debt over three years.
But he believes SA Express should be closed down or folded into another airline.
"We are quite convinced we should close SA Express," Mboweni said, responding to a question posed by DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis on the minister's position on the airline.
The airline is facing severe financial challenges, to the extent that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan could not table the annual financial statements in Parliament on time, Fin24 previously reported.
Mboweni explained that South African Airways owns a 3% share in Airlink, a competitor of SA Express.
"There is no logic whatsoever in having SA Express and Airlink competing with one another, while SAA owns 3% of Airlink," Mboweni said. He said the minister of public service and administration is dealing with this matter.
He suggested SA Express either be folded into Airlink or closed.
Sharing thoughts on Airlink, Mboweni said he does not quite like their service because they are "stingy". "But they get you there and they are profitable," he said.