Ntshanga‚ who has been at the helm of the beleaguered airline for the past seven years‚ is said to have tendered his resignation on Tuesday after talks with the board.
His resignation comes barely a week after he was told his contract‚ which comes to an end on March 31‚ would not be renewed‚ two SAX insiders said.
Yesterday‚ while confirming the resignation‚ the company said his “visionary leadership‚ passion and determination have seen the airline become the second-largest regional airline in the Middle East Africa region (according to an independent survey conducted by Airline Business)”.
“SA Express’ route network currently covers five SADC countries and 17 major local and regional routes‚” spokesperson Refiloe Masemola said.
“After 13 years of faithful service‚ Inati Ntshanga will be greatly missed but his successes and vision will continue to be a driver for the continued sustainability and improved performance of the airline‚” she added.
Ntshanga has been with SAX since 2004 when he was appointed as general manager: strategy and market development.
The company said until a replacement was found‚ the company would be under the stewardship of executive management and the board.
“We would like to assure our passengers that through this transitional period‚ SA Express continues to function as a well-oiled machine.
“The SA Express Board of Directors will make an announcement regarding his replacement in a few days’ time.”
The regional airline has been under considerable pressure‚ including last May when the Civil Aviation Authority grounded it after it failed to meet safety standards.
The grounding‚ which lasted a weekend‚ had been due to the company’s equipment failing to pick up problems in the system.
The aviation authority’s executive for aviation safety‚ Simon Segwabe‚ said at the time: “Every time an aircraft is prepared for a flight the airline must give a guarantee that it is airworthy. We could not trust that‚ and that is why we have suspended their flights.”
Last month Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown was forced to save her “problem child” from financial ruin when it failed to pay R150-million loans to Nedbank and Rand Merchant Bank. Briefing Parliament’s public enterprises portfolio committee‚ she said the airline faced profitability and liquidity issues and was unable to pay its debts.
SA Express was expected to pay R150-million to its lenders by February 24‚ “failing which its government guarantee would be triggered‚ requiring payment within 30 business days”.
Brown said SA Express was able to make payment of only R58-million and her department was forced to negotiate payment instalments with Nedbank and Rand Merchant Bank.
With four aircraft grounded‚ the company is also in urgent need of a new fleet but Brown said a Public Finance Management Act application for funding from SA Express had been declined.
The company is included in government plans to rationalise airline operations – which include SAA and a 2.5% share in Airlink – in a bid to cut costs.
The company failed to table its annual financial statements to Parliament after it could not satisfy the Auditor General’s solvency and liquidity tests.
SA Express has a R1.1-billion state guarantee to keep it aloft.