South African Airways picks new CEO—its seventh in three years as African carriers' struggles continue

Thuli Mpshe held the position for just four months after the departure of her predecessor; state-owned carrier continues to absorb taxpayer funds.

South Africa’s state-owned carrier SAA has removed its acting chief executive, the airline said Wednesday, after a recent walkout by senior executives added to management woes faced by the airline.

Thuli Mpshe held the position for just four months after the departure of her predecessor.

She is South African Airways’ (SAA) seventh chief executive in three years.

SAA said in a statement that the head of technical division, Musa Zwane, had now been appointed as acting CEO, while Mpshe would return to her role as general manager for human resources.

The reshuffle comes after a controversial push by SAA chairwoman Dudu Myeni to renegotiate a deal to lease five A330 aircraft from Airbus, a move opposed by government because of funding challenges.

Writing in Business Day newspaper on Wednesday, Myeni said the loss-making SAA initially ordered 41 aircraft from Airbus in 2002, and that most of them had been delivered and paid for.

“In our current discussion, we have agreed with Airbus to swap delivery of 10 outstanding A320s for five A330s, which are more suitable for long-haul flights,” said Myeni.

“The swap from A320s to A330s is not under debate. As always, the issue is how it will be funded.”

SAA has maintained that the A330s would enable the airline to service long-haul routes more cost-effectively.

The company has over the last 10 years embarked on a major expansion of its global networks, including some less profitable African and Asian markets.

The state has poured millions of dollars into the flailing airline over the last few years and it limps from one financial crisis to another.

Myeni is facing growing internal differences with senior management, with the resignation of the airline’s chief financial officer this week, and a vote of no confidence against her by the Pilot’s Association.

Called for sacking
Opposition parties in parliament have in the past called for Myeni’s head, blaming her for failing to stem the airlines financial woes. 

SAA’s troubles are mirrored by those of many African state-owned airlines, including rival Kenya Airways, which in July booked a $252 million loss, the biggest in Kenya’s corporate history.

Kenya Airways has been unprofitable since 2012 as the carrier struggles with a decline in tourism traffic following a number of attacks by Islamist militants.

Last week the carrier, 30% owned by the government, reported that its pretax loss for the six months to September narrowed slightly to $116 million, helped by lower fuel costs.

The airline had reported a pretax loss of $122.55 million a year earlier.

Many state-owned airlines in Africa have in recent years been battered, with the notable exception of Ethiopian Airlines, which in its last set of accounts made more profit than all the continent’s airlines put together.

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