Reasonable chance broke SAA could be rescued: Les Matuson

SAA business rescue practitioner believes the airline could be saved.
SAA business rescue practitioner believes the airline could be saved.
Image: SAA

There is a reasonable chance that South African Airways (SAA) can be saved, a team of turnaround specialists appointed to try and pull the state-run carrier back from the brink of collapse said on Friday.

Les Matuson, the business rescue practitioner charged with assessing whether there was any chance of rescuing the state-run carrier and its 10,000 related jobs, and his team argued that rescuing SAA was the preferable option.

“(We) ... are of the belief that the business rescue process will achieve a better outcome for all stakeholders than an immediate liquidation,” the statement said. In event of liquidation of SAA, proceeds would all go to preferent creditors, leaving nothing for concurrent creditors, they said, giving an argument against it.

Earlier this month the government put SAA into business rescue — a form of bankruptcy protection where a specialist advisor takes control of a company to restructure it — after a crippling strike exacerbated substantial financial problems and left it at risk of going bust.

While the decision to attempt to salvage it is a much-needed vote of confidence in SAA — once Africa’s biggest airline and a former source of patriotic pride — it is unclear what form it could take in the future and how many jobs can be saved.

Matuson said creditors had approved and extension to the deadline to present a plan for SAA’s rescue until no later than the end of February next year.

Before it is finalised, employees and creditors will need vote in favour of the plan, according to business rescue law.

Any cuts to jobs or wages — issues that prompted the initial strike last month — could prove sensitive.

The two main unions representing SAA workers both said they would comment later.

Some analysts had said the airline should be allowed to fail, while others questioned the affordability of a 4 billion rand lifeline stumped up by government in order to launch the rescue plan.

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