Siza Mzimela. Picture: SOWETAN
Siza Mzimela. Picture: SOWETAN

SA Express, the airline grounded by the South African Civil Aviation Authority over safety issues, has appointed the founder and CEO of failed airline Fly Blue Crane, Siza Mzimela, as acting CEO of the state-owned regional carrier.

In a joint statement, the Department of Public Enterprises and SA Express said current acting CEO, Matsietsi Mokholo, will be taking up a new position at the Presidency. Mokholo will hand over to Mzimela over the next two weeks.

Mzimela formed part of the department’s intervention team appointed just after the airline was grounded. She is credited with being the first woman to start an airline, and was CEO of SAA from April 2010 until October 2012. She left after a walkout by most of SAA’s board, including then chair Cheryl Carolus, following disagreements with the Department of Public Enterprises. SAA reported a loss of R1.25bn for the year to March 2012.

She started Fly Blue Crane with two former SAA colleagues in September 2015, flying between Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Kimberley and Bombela, but at the end of 2016 it entered business rescue and in 2017 it suspended its operations indefinitely.

Earlier, members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) at SA Express said they were concerned that a CEO who had left an airline "in financial dire straits" would be appointed at SA Express. The union said it was apprehensive, in particular, about the changes Mzimela would bring if she were appointed.

Satawu will seek a meeting with the airline at the earliest opportunity to discuss the safety of its members’ jobs. Satawu represents a coalition at SA Express with unions UASA and Awusa.

The civil aviation authority reinstated SA Express’s air operator certificate in July, clearing the way for the carrier to resume operation as an airline, though with only two of its 21 aircraft, BusinessLive has reported.

The cost of getting SA Express airborne again would be enormous, airline analyst Joachim Vermooten said in June. Subsidies by the state mean competition in the domestic industry is quashed, he said, and that the market has never been allowed to develop after it was supposedly opened to competition 28 years ago. This means all domestic routes remain monopolistic, even if they are operated by different carriers.

SA Express’s board thanked Mokholo for her hard work as part of the intervention team that ensured the airline is ready to commence it commercial operations after the civil aviation authority suspended its air operators’ certificates and its certificates of airworthiness in May 2018. "As part of the intervention team, Ms Mzimela is also well-positioned to take over the functions as SA Express CEO on an interim basis."