Nationwide leases plane for London flight

Grounded carrier Nationwide has leased an aircraft from Dutch airline KLM to fly passengers to London on Sunday night, said the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

However, Nationwide would have to prove that this aircraft complied with civil aviation safety requirements before it would be allowed to fly, said CAA spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu.

She said three CAA inspectors were examining the aircraft on Sunday morning to ensure it was properly maintained.

CAA aircraft safety executive manager Obert Chakarisa was going to OR Tambo International Airport himself to inspect the aircraft too, she said.

Nationwide was grounded on Friday after the CAA suspended its approval of the airline’s aircraft-maintenance organisation and the certificates of airworthiness of Nationwide’s fleet of 16 aircraft — twelve 737-200s, three 727s and one 767.

The airline lodged an appeal against the decision with acting CAA commissioner Gawie Bestbier on Friday.

Gwebu confirmed that the CAA had received the appeal, but said the CAA was not finished with it yet.

Bestbier had told Nationwide ”exactly what he wants them to do to comply”, she said.

”We are still waiting for their response.”

Gwebu also confirmed that the CAA had received a request from Nationwide to use an aircraft leased from KLM to fly passengers to London on Sunday.

Although KLM took responsibility for this aircraft, Nationwide was nonetheless required to prove its airworthiness.

Nationwide flies to London and Livingstone, in Zambia, and between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, George, Mpumalanga.

Although Comair initially offered to honour Nationwide tickets on British Airways and kulula.com flights, it later backtracked.

This after Nationwide’s tickets were declared void by the International Air Transport Association and it was suspended as a participating carrier in the Bank Settlement Plan, which distributes funds to travel agents for bookings made with airlines.

Nationwide was offering full refunds to passengers or to change their tickets for flights on later dates.

Describing the grounding as ”unavoidable”, the CAA said on Friday that it could not afford to be reckless as it was dealing with human lives.

The CAA said the grounding was not a result of the drama at Cape Town International Airport on November 7, when a Nationwide Johannesburg-bound Boeing 737 lost one of its two engines on take-off, yet managed to land safely half an hour later.

It was rather over maintenance concerns that arose during consideration of the airline’s application for the annual renewal of its airline maintenance organisation licence.

The airline’s failure to fix deficiencies identified during this process was compounded by its failure to comply with airworthiness directives issued in response to the engine incident, the CAA said.

It could give no indication of how long it might take the airline to meet the requirements needed for the lifting of the suspension, but warned that if it failed to do so its licence could be revoked altogether.

Meanwhile, Nationwide airline had not fitted pirate parts to its aircraft, said its CEO Vernon Bricknell.

Allegations to this effect were ”totally false”, Bricknell said in a statement posted on Nationwide’s website on Saturday.

”Nationwide does not use ‘pirate’ parts.

”We only purchase and use legitimate aircraft components from authorised suppliers with the required release documentation.”

Referring particularly to the November 7 incident in which an engine fell off one of its aircraft in Cape Town, Bricknell said the cause was not a ”bogus bolt”.

Preliminary tests had indicated that a fatigue crack caused the failure of the aft primary engine mount. — Sapa

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