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South Africa: Sad day as SAA pilots’ wings are finally clipped

By Letter to the Editor

SAA, you’ve finally done it. Sixteen months after last paying us and 26 years since hiring me, you’ve pulled the plug and retrenched us all. A sad day indeed.

My sadness transcends the beautiful machines I’ve had the privilege of flying or the wide world SAA allowed me to play in.

Most of all my heart is filled with sadness at the loss of the friendships and our camaraderie as SAA pilots – a select and very special band of brothers and sisters. Not all house friends, but the kind I would welcome into my home any time.

Aviators from every walk of life, from the head of the AWB Airwing to ANC exiles, SAAF war heroes to cadets from far-flung rural villages, from the naughty to the God-fearing, from playboys to moms with kids at home. Every last one with a flying or life story to learn from.

It sounds so clichéd but our diversity truly was our strength, with varying skills and experience levels but every single one with a common love of flying and our company, in equal measure.

Who can forget the excitement of opening our rosters on the 16th of every month for a sneak peek into the following month’s fun. It was like opening a lucky packet. Some you preferred more than others, but all sweet none the less. Remember having to quite literally suck a lemon to get the smile off our faces while preparing for work or whistling while walking to our cars.

Whether on the jump-seat to Jozi, in the corridors at work, at the dispatch counter, the door on a crew change in Accra, in the hotel lobbies or even bumping into each other on the streets of Hong Kong, New York or Frankfurt and London, the perpetual banter was inevitable. Every encounter involving a quick whinge about management, some humorous stories about our colleagues or a belly laugh about the shenanigans on a recent trip.

Friendships cemented over hours and hours in near darkness, crossing continents and oceans. Generally avoiding politics and religion, we explored each other’s passions, loves, losses, adventures, dreams, family dramas or madcap business ideas, more often than not while devising a mean plan of action involving exploring our exotic destination flat, interrupted only by some serious eating and drinking at our favourite haunts. From the wild parties to the quiet meals or even the solo-exploring, each trip was an adventure – every single time.

To say the last year-and-a-half has been testing for us all would be a gross understatement. We’ve seen many of our colleagues pushed to the edge, only for the pilot body to step in and raise funds from within our ranks to help them – that band of brothers and sisters to the end.

Sadly many will give up flying and for the the rest it’ll take a few years to return to the flight deck, under completely different circumstances, I’m sure.

Hang in there, my friends, this crazy world will eventually right itself.

To JZ, Dudu and your cronies, the toxic mix of your greed and incompetence destroyed a once-proud 87-year-old airline of world repute. You should be riddled with guilt but, as most of the country has discovered, you have no shame. Enriching yourselves, you’ve sown a trail of destruction in your wake. Thousands of upstanding, hard-working and loyal workers’ lives have been upended.

To those of you who are entrusted to carry on the legacy in version two, I wish you well. May you prove the naysayers wrong. Fly the flag and fly it safely.

Lastly, to all my colleagues and friends, I thank you for the fun and the laughter. Every last one of you has left an indelible mark and I will cherish our memories forever.

May you all find happiness beyond SAA. I will miss every one of you dearly.

Godspeed, my friends.

Retired Senior Captain Phil Parsons

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.

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