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Could be months before SA Express is off the ground again, says aviation body

May 25 2018 16:35
Carin Smith

It could be some time before SA Express will literally be off the ground again.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) grounded the airline on Thursday.

SACAA spokesperson Kabelo Ledwaba told Fin24 on Friday that it is a complete shutdown of the airline's flights. Aircraft had to fly back to their base without any passengers, regardless of where they were.

"SACAA found things we were not happy with over the last number of days before SA Express was grounded. These things were of a serious nature," said Ledwaba.

He added that SACAA is prepared to guide SA Express in the process of reapplying to operate again. The reapplication and approval process could, however, be lengthy.

"It largely depends on the operator how fast it provides SACAA with the necessary information and complies with the reapplication. It can take months," said Ledwaba.

"At the same time, I want to add that they might already have some of the requirements needed, but it is a lengthy process and the airline will not just be off the ground again tomorrow."

SACAA suspended SA Express' Operator's Certificate as well as its Aircraft Maintenance Organisation approvals. SACAA has also suspended the Certificates of Airworthiness for nine of the 21 aircraft operated by the airline.

SACAA cited non-compliance in relation to 17 specific findings. The regulatory body does not disclose full details of its audits.

Poppy Khoza, SACAA director of civil aviation, said on Thursday that SACAA cannot turn a blind eye to any operation where there is overwhelming evidence that safety measures are compromised, because that automatically poses serious danger for the crew, passengers and the public at large.

South African Airways (SAA) has announced recovery plans on Friday that entail replacement capacity with partner airlines to support SA Express passengers.

Three partner airlines - SAA, Mango Airlines and SA Airlink - collaborated to initiate a plan aimed at mitigating the impact of the suspension of SA Express services and to ensure business continuity, according to SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali.
 
“Our priority remains customer assistance in the best way possible to minimise the inconvenience caused by the suspension of SA Express services,” Tlali said in a statement.
 
“We have a recovery plan which was activated soon after the suspension of SA Express operations.”

SAA will rebook, reroute or refund passengers whose travel plans have changed due to suspension of SA Express flights. Passengers on SA coded tickets and SA code share will be accommodated on a priority basis. SAA will, in accordance with its compensation policy, compensate all passengers where applicable.

Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA), told Fin24 on Friday that he notes the grounding of SA Express with concern and hopes that the team at the airline will cooperate with SACAA to get off the ground again as soon as possible.

"AASA is interested in a stable industry and we trust that SA Express will work well with SACAA in this regard," he said.

More than 1000 jobs in balance

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said in a statement it is concerned about the suspension of SA Express’s operating certificate and that more than 1 000 jobs could be at stake.

Numsa said the findings of the aviation authority are extremely worrying, particularly as they have a direct impact on the operations of the airline.

"We are also concerned about the airline's alleged failure to adhere to safety standards which puts the safety of workers and the public at large at risk," said the union.  

"Furthermore, the grounding of the airline may have a detrimental impact on jobs in the long term because it means the airline will not be able to make money to sustain its operations."

Aviation expert Linden Birns of Plane Talking told Fin24 on Friday that SA Express was also grounded for a short period last year, and had to put out a plan on how it would comply and make sure safety is maintained and aircraft maintained properly.

"It seems the airline did not stick to this plan as it was a safety issue that caused the grounding by SACAA," said Birns.

Fin24 reported on Thursday that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told a media briefing that SA Express has found itself facing financial challenges because of "people who were looking for opportunities to steal instead of running the airline properly".

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sacaa  |  sa express  |  pravin gordhan  |  aviation  |  airlines
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