SA Express suspends operations over ‘serious safety risks’ from today

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) said on Thursday that it has suspended South African Express’s operating permits – effectively grounding all its planes from today.

In a statement, the aviation authority said it has suspended the state-owned airline’s air operator’s certificate, its aircraft maintenance organisation approvals and the certificates of airworthiness of nine of its 21 aircrafts.

In order to be able to operate, South African Express will have to reapply and be issued with relevant approvals, the statement said.

The airline has this month been in hot water over operational and financial setbacks, as well as a recent spate of corruption allegations.

On May 11, the airline experienced two incidents during which technical problems forced two separate flights — one from East London to Johannesburg and another from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth — to make emergency landings.

The East London to Johannesburg flight experienced an explosion shortly after take-off, the airline’s chief executive Matsietsi Mokholo told TimesLive. South African Express has not yet commented on the second incident.

The SACAA said its decision to revoke the airline’s permits comes after the authority conducted an audit at the airline and its maintenance organisation, which uncovered “severe cases of non-compliance that pose serious safety risks”.

The airline, the aviation authority said, could not ensure that safety requirements are met at all times. The SACAA said the grounding of the airline was thus “inevitable”.

Director of civil aviation Poppy Khoza said that the aviation authority “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”.

Following this grounding, the statement said, it is expected that South African Express would make arrangements with the aviation authority to fly all affected aircraft back to the home base.

Just hours before the the SACAA’s announcement, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan announced the appointment of a new board for the airline, which will be chaired by Tryphosa Ramano.

Gordhan said at a media briefing in Cape Town he was compelled to send in an intervention team last week to find out what was happening at the airline following the suspension of several executive managers on allegations of corruption.

According to Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises, the airline is haemorrhaging money — a fact made clear in a review of the airline’s 2017/18 financial report.

The airline’s executives presented the annual report before the committee last Wednesday. According to the presentation, banks are no longer committed to supporting it unless it can demonstrate a clear turnaround plan, supported by government funding.

Treasury has since been negotiating an injection of cash into airline for operational purposes.

READ MORE: Gordhan appoints Phakamani Hadebe as Eskom CEO

Gordhan said on Thursday that he has appointed an intervention team to strengthen the capacity of the airline. He said the intervention team had in just four days uncovered two dodgy contracts at the airline — one a R5.7-million payment to Gupta-linked Trillian for advisory services and the raising of capital and the other a since-cancelled fuel supply contract for R67-million a month. Due process had allegedly not been followed in securing both contracts.

Gordhan also said that steps are being taken to merge South African Airways, South African Express and Mango. 

UPDATE: SA Express has issued a statement responding to SACAA’s decision. 

SA Express Statement

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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