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By Hein Kaiser


‘SAA must delete data from Airlink’: Court orders airline to stop using info

Court mandates destruction of sensitive data amid SAA-Airlink feud, raising questions on corporate ethics.

The High Court in Johannesburg yesterday ordered the SA Airways (SAA) to stop using, and to destroy, information that belongs to competitor Airlink.

Airlink – which claimed the data contained sensitive commercial information – sought urgent relief from the court after an investigation by The Citizen revealed that the flag carrier’s head of sales and marketing, Carla da Silva, allegedly copied and distributed the information to subordinates during October, while still on Airlink’s payroll, before joining SAA in November 2023.

Airlink filed for an urgent interdict in late March to halt Da Silva and SAA from using its information and, while the interdict was not granted, justice David Unterhalter still ruled on the destruction of the data.

In SAA’s lengthy responding affidavit, Da Silva said she considered the data as publicly available and dismissed Airlink’s claims outright.

In addition, she also suggested that The Citizen or Airlink could have tampered with the data in-between the journalist becoming in possession of the information and validating it with Airlink as its information.

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In addition, Da Silva denied that there were hidden columns that contained Airlink’s sensitive information on the spreadsheet that emanated from her device.

Instead, she suggested that the whistle-blower who contacted The Citizen did so to damage SAA which, she said, was on a recovery path after business rescue.

The Citizen reporter was present when the data that Da Silva had distributed inside SAA was copied from the original e-mail by the whistle-blower.

It was seen by the reporter on an SAA device, transferred onto a memory stick, which was then validated by Airlink.

Hidden columns were present from the genesis of the reveal.

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CemAir drawn into the spat

Miles van der Molen, who owns competing airline CemAir, was drawn into the spat. He provided a supporting affidavit that bolstered Da Silva’s argument about the benign nature of the data.

He said contact details for travel agencies and market data is readily available from organisations such as the International Air Transportation Association, and other subscription services.

Van der Molen’s airline has had an interline agreement with SAA since 2021, allowing both parties to sell one another’s services.

In an affidavit submitted to the high court by SAA employee, Shanban Vadachia, it was recorded that Da Silva tried to recall the e-mail with the alleged stolen data attached after The Citizen first exposed the purported malfeasance.

While it had nothing to do with the relief that Airlink sought, several employees reporting to Da Silva also provided supporting affidavits to dispel allegations that they were unduly influenced or questionably got employment at SAA.

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The Citizen reported previously that Da Silva allegedly bypassed or massaged recruitment processes to enable the majority of Airlink’s marketing department to join her at SAA.

SAA’s desperation

The Democratic Alliance’s Alf Lees has been watching the saga unfurl. He said it was indicative of SAA’s desperation to find some way to keep the airline going.

“It seems as if they’ll stop at nothing, not even at condoning breaking the law,” he said.

“It’s shameful that there has been no visible disciplinary action or consequences for Da Silva… It leaves a sour taste for what lies in the future when the airline clearly encouraged seemingly illegal behaviour by spending a fortune on legal fees to protect people who are allegedly busy with malfeasance.”

Satisfied with the court outcome

Airlink’s CEO and managing director Rodger Foster said: “Airlink is satisfied with the court outcome and the relief it provides with the order that SAA must delete, destroy and not use any of Airlink’s intellectual property in any way,” he said.

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“The outcome also confirms the seriousness and validity of our case against Mrs Da Silva, SAA and the other respondents.”

SAA was contacted for comment but had not responded by the time of going to print.