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Aviation authority grounds Nationwide Airlines

Nationwide Airlines said on Friday that all its domestic and international flights had been grounded by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), but did not know how long the ban would last.

”The Civil Aviation Authority has removed our aviation maintenance organisation licence, which effectively grounds our airplanes,” Nationwide’s spokesperson Rodger Whittle told Reuters.

”We do not know for what period of time, we have asked the Civil Aviation Authority for clarification and information, and we don’t anticipate that it will be a long situation.”

Whittle said the airline operates about 50 to 55 flights a day, locally and internationally.

Nationwide was notified by fax late on Thursday night that the CAA had revoked its aviation maintenance organisation licence, said the airline’s sales and marketing manager Charmaine Thome.

”This has led to the grounding of aircraft,” she said, adding: ”We don’t know where we stand at the moment.”

Thome said the airline had not been given a ”solid reason” for the move.

It had not once been told it was linked to the drama at Cape Town International Airport on November 7 when an engine dropped off Nationwide flight CE723.

”We were cleared of that incident,” said Thome.

The Johannesburg-bound Boeing 737 lost one of its two engines during take-off from Cape Town airport, yet managed to land safely half an hour later.

The airline said the engine had sucked in ”an object” as the plane was taking off.

Following the incident, the CAA ordered a full inspection of all Boeing 737-200s.

Boeing 737-200s belonging to Comair and Kulula and SAA Cargo were later declared safe after engine-mount inspections.

Thome said Nationwide’s chief executive officer Vernon Bricknell had been in talks with the CAA overnight.

”We had hoped this would be resolved [by] this morning,” she said.

As a result, the company had not notified passengers.

”We didn’t want to panic people unnecessarily. Unfortunately he returned without any result,” she said.

Nationwide was now ”putting out correspondence” notifying users of the grounding.

Thome said the airline was trying to get passengers on to other flights, but could not say which airlines.

”Whoever is prepared to help, really.”

A 1Time call-centre operator told Mail and Guardian Online on Friday: ”1Time can accommodate those passengers grounded by Nationwide. They will have to make a new booking with us and pay our current rates. On the part of Nationwide we do not know if they will be refunding their passengers, it is up to them. At present we do not have any agreement with Nationwide to carry their passengers.”

Thome said she could not say how many flights would be affected.

”It is the first day of the holidays. It is a very busy time of year for us.”

Thome said Nationwide’s licence had been valid and was renewed a month or so ago.

The CAA would not comment on the matter on Friday morning. Spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu said the matter would be dealt with at a press conference at CAA headquarters in Midrand on Friday morning. – Sapa, Reuters

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