* Reported threefold increase in annual losses
* Plans cost cuts to help retore profitability
* Also plans to scale back international routes (Adds CEO comments)
By Patricia Aruo and Tiisetso Motsoeneng
JOHANNESBURG, March 29 (Reuters) - South African Airways (SAA) mapped out its turnaround strategy to make the struggling airline more competitive and cost-efficient after reporting a hefty annual loss on Thursday.
SAA, which has not generated profit since 2011, is regularly cited by ratings agencies as a drain on the government purse and survives on state guarantees totalling nearly 20 billion rand ($1.69 billion).
The company’s results for the year to March 31, 2017 — which had been delayed after the company received a 10 billion rand government bailout last year — showed a deepening loss of 5.6 billion rand, a more than threefold increase from the previous year’s 1.5 billion rand loss.
However, the National Treasury is hopeful that new executive leadership led by Vuyani Jarana, a former executive at telecoms company Vodacom, would return Africa’s No.2 airline to profitability.
“The difference between successfully implementing this strategy and failing is leadership,” said finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. “We are confident that we do have a committed leadership and we will support them fully.”
Jarana, who took the helm four months ago, said cost-cutting and a scaling back of international routes should help to restore profitability by 2023.
However, Chairman Johannes Magwaza, a relatively new member of a refreshed board, said that any turnaround strategy would come to naught if the company fails to address its heavy debt.
The National Treasury said that SAA needs an equity partner to pump money into company to address a liquidity crisis and to help with implementation of the turnaround plan.
Jarana, however, said a deal at this stage would be struck at a discount, bringing in less money, because SAA was in distress.
“We need to first transform SAA,” he said.
This week the head of the Treasury said that a sale of 49 percent of SAA was a theoretical example of how the government could narrow the budget deficit. (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng Writing by Alexander Winning Editing by Ed Cropley and David Goodman)