South African state-owned airline ‘unsafe’

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

In a bid to prevent “catastrophic” incidents, the national aviation authority has stopped state airline SA Express from flying, leaving angry passenger stuck at airports countrywide yesterday.

Due to safety concerns, the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) yesterday suspended the airline’s air operator certificate due to “failure to comply with the applicable civil aviation regulations”.

This decision came without notice for SA Express, which claims to be a “world class regional airline with an extensive footprint in Africa”, as well as its passengers.

SACAA is a “self-funded agency of the department of transport, tasked with promoting and maintaining a safe, secure, and sustainable civil aviation environment”.

SAACA’s spokesman Kabelo Ledwaba said the certification suspension was “precautionary in the interest of safety and preventing incidents that can be catastrophic”.

Ledwaba added: “The suspension follows a series of non-compliances and the SACAA’s dissatisfaction with the operator’s safety monitoring systems, which are meant to monitor and address any safety deficiencies.

“The regulator (SACAA) also found the operator’s proposed corrective action plan inadequate as it does not satisfactorily address the findings raised.”

SA Express chief executive Inati Ntshanga confirmed SACAA’s action was because it “deems our quality assurance systems to be inadequate”.

But Ntshanga did not admit to this alleged failure.

“Since we started operations 22 years ago, we have had an impeccable safety record as safety has always been our first and foremost priority and we will never compromise our passengers, crew, the public or our aircraft safety,” said Ntshanga.

“We are currently in discussions with SACAA and take their concerns very seriously to resolve these challenges as a matter of urgency… We are working in conjunction with the relevant authorities to find an urgent and speedy resolution for this situation.”

Ledwaba said SACAA’s “recent inspections and audits on the airline’s operations have pointed to inefficient safety monitoring systems, and some level of failure by the operator to satisfactorily address concerns”.

“SACAA views the inefficiency of the safety monitoring systems in a serious light as it poses serious safety hazards and risks to the crew, passengers, and the public at large,” he said.

“The regulator cannot allow the operator to continue with operations until such time that the identified safety concerns are adequately addressed.”

Ntshanga said they would remain grounded “until such time that the SACAA’s concerns have been addressed and the airline has been granted permission to operate again”.

“SA Express has confirmed that passengers will be accommodated,” he said.

Public enterprises minister Lynne Brown did not say much on the matter but did offer an apology to stranded passengers.

“As a (government) shareholder representative of SA Express, I apologise to passengers who have been inconvenienced by the suspension of the company’s certificate,” she said.

Brown said she was “providing all the necessary support to management of SA Express to resolve this matter”.

Her department’s director-general Mogokare Seleke would “lead talks with the SACAA to resolve this matter”, she said.

SA Express officials had earlier this month appeared before Parliament’s select committee on public accounts to answer questions about its poor performance.

Along with national carrier South African Airways (SAA), the troubled airline has needed government bail outs.

Brown this month favoured a merger of the two airlines to reportedly “streamline finances and technical expertise”.

SA Express meanwhile communicated via is online social media platforms with passengers – and they fired back.

Passenger Tony Rushton said SA Express was “utterly shameless” while Siphe Macanda said it was “chaos at the Cape Town airport (as) all SA Express flights have been ground(ed)”.

“Some people have been waiting since six in the morning,” said Macanda.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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