The founder and former CEO of Nationwide Airline has threatened to liquidate the South African Airline if the national carrier fails to pay more than R104 million in damages to Nationwide.
Vernon Bricknell who founded the Nationwide Airline in 1995 and led it until it stopped operations and went into liquidation in 2008, said he is convinced that SAA is still ‘using every trick in the book’ to eliminate competition and is doing it with taxpayers’ money.
Nationwide Airline was on Monday, awarded damages by the South Gauteng High Court following the ruling of the Competition Tribunal in 2010 that SAA abused its dominance in the local market and played a major role in the demise of Nationwide.
South African Airlines (SAA) “tried all the tricks in the book”, but the law finally prevailed by ordering SAA to pay Nationwide R104.6m plus interest as damages for its uncompetitive practices.
Though Bricknell was disappointed that the South Gauteng High Court did not award the full amount (R171.5m ) Nationwide requested from SAA, he is satisfied that the national carrier “got what they rightfully deserved”.
Bricknell is one of Nationwide’s biggest creditors and will therefore be the largest beneficiary of the award, Bowman Gilfillan attorney Lucinda Verster – who represented Nationwide and later its liquidators from the start of Nationwide’s competition issue with SAA in 2001- had explained.
The uncertainty of the SAA financial status is no longer news to all following its inability to publish its financial statements for 2014/15 or 2015/16 due to going concern issues and has only R99 million of its government guarantees still available.
The airline had in December, requested for an additional R4.5 billion guarantee which the national Treasury is yet to respond to unless a new board is appointed.
It is therefore against this background that Bricknell swore to apply for SAA’s liquidation if it fails to pay the damages. “And I’m sure Comair will as well (if its claim is awarded but not paid).
Bricknell said Nationwide was the longest running private airline in South Africa until it had to stop trading because SAA “tried to put us out of business from the day we started.”
He invested a lot of money in the business, hence the award would be of much help to him. “But it will not help that 15 years of my life was destroyed.”
He said he would never go into the airline industry in South Africa again, unless the playing fields are levelled and he would be spared fighting SAA with its deep pockets all the time.
The former chair however criticised the long delay in finalising the claim, saying it is “pathetic”. An antitrust case in Britain between Virgin and British Airways was finalised within a year, while this one took six years from the tribunal ruling in 2010.