South African trade unions have once again managed to stave off the final liquidation of defunct state regional carrier South African Express (EXY, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) – this time to January 11, 2022 – having escalated their quest to save the airline to the highest echelons of law and government in the country.

In the sixth postponement since SA Express was provisionally liquidated in April 2020, the Johannesburg High Court on July 28 granted another extension of the court return date for final liquidation, a move that was unopposed by the provisional liquidators of the airline.

This will allow the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) time to fight the liquidation in the country’s Constitutional Court and National Assembly. The unions contend that in the absence of Parliamentary oversight, a state-owned company cannot be finally liquidated by a court.

As previously reported, they are hoping that Parliament will hold the Ministers of Public Enterprises and Finance to account for not recapitalising SA Express, as they have done with sister airline South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo), which recently exited bankruptcy protection and is due to start flying again in August.

NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told ch-aviation the Constitutional Court case was being delayed because the shareholder representative Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) had not yet filed papers in response to the union’s application. She questioned the government's agenda, pointing out that DPE had not opposed SA Express' final liquidation.

This follows a failed rescue bid last year by Fly SAX, a special purpose vehicle created by former employees, after their financial backer, Johannesburg investment firms Strategic Investment Group Africa (SIGA) and Harith General Partners pulled out of the venture. Harth has since partnered Global Aviation Operations (GE, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) in the Takatso Consortium that has been announced as the preferred strategic equity partner for SAA. Fly SAX in May this year made a revised offer based on raising ZAR150 million rand (USD10.4 million) in working capital through crowd-funding. The airline’s material assets have been auctioned off and its licenses and certifications have expired, but the former employees are adamant its brand is worth saving.

Provisional liquidator Aviwe Ndyamara was not immediately available for comment.