Hilka Birns/CAPE TOWN

South African Airways has appointed former World Airways chief executive Coleman Andrews to restore the ailing airline to health in time for its approaching privatisation.

Andrews succeeds chief executive Mike Myburgh, whose early retirement had been expected. Myburgh's deputy, John Hare, has also been axed and the pair's departure is widely seen locally as a purge of the old Afrikaner management.

The move follows the move last month of executive director Zukile Nomvete, who was blamed for SAA's continuing poor performance in the past two years.

Andrews, 43, is credited with saving the charter carrier from bankruptcy by turning $200 million losses into cumulative profits of more then $70 million during the 1980s, although it has since suffered a number of setbacks to its scheduled services, including the closure of its route to Johannesburg after only six weeks.

Saki Macozomo, managing director of SAA's parent, Transnet, describes Andrews as having "an enviable track record...the right man for the job". In spite of the World Airways rescue, parent company Worldcorp - of which Andrews was founder and, until recently, chairman - has suffered failing fortunes in recent years as its share price has slumped and debts have mounted.

Transnet's executive in charge of SAA, Mafika Mkhwanazi, says Andrews was chosen because of his performance during his direct stewardship of World Airways from 1986-93, when he turned massive losses into solid profits.

Andrews sees his task as one of implementing "disciplined and tenacious" cost-cutting and revenue management.

Routes, schedules and pricing will be rigorously reviewed and more aggressive marketing and sales campaigns will be launched.

A self-confessed fanatic on standardisation, Andrews plans to streamline the long , medium and short haul fleets with single aircraft and engine types. SAA's latest fleet renewal recommendations will be tested against his new strategy and his attitude on the future of SAA's delayed Boeing 777 order is one of "-we will see".

SAA is expected to name a partner to take a 20-30% stake in the airline by the end of this year. British Airways, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Continental Airlines are said to be among the possible suitors.

Source: Flight International