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A SA Express Dash-8-Q400 aircraft. (Photo: Bob Adams from George, South Africa (SA Express Dash 8-Q400 ZS-NMS) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

SA Express Grounded by South African Civil Aviation a Day After SAA Merger Announcement

The South African commercial aviation sector took another hit this week with the announcement Friday that all South African (SA) Express flights were to be grounded immediately due to maintenance concerns. Following the announcement, news agency Fin24 reported that South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) was behind the grounding of the SA Express fleet.

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

The decree left thousands of customers stranded, as all SA Express aircraft had to return to their bases immediately and without any passengers. SA Express has called on South African Airways, low-cost airline Mango and Airlink, all airlines that SA Express has links with, to assist with passenger travel.

In a press release, Acting CEO of SA Express Matsietsi Mokholo said, “We regret the inconvenience this frustrating situation has caused our passengers. We assure you that we are doing everything in our power to resolve the situation urgently.” SACAA cited non-compliance by SA Express in relation to 17 specific findings but did not disclose full details of its audits.

The grounding comes a day after a merger with SA Express and Mango was confirmed by the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, on Thursday and a week after South African Airways (SAA) reported their seventh annual loss in a row.

“Bringing the airlines together and rationalizing their routes are important,” Gordhan stated. “Rationalizing the kind of aircraft needed at a particular time and day – that’s the experience we’re beginning to learn from airlines around the world.”

Reports from South Africa are that the situation will take months to resolve, as even though SA Express may have some of the concerns in hand, the process to reinstate the Operators’ Certificate will take some time. South Africa’s EWN News has quoted SACAA’s Director Poppy Khoza as saying, “We will have to redo the entire process like looking at a new airline; looking at the system to see if we are satisfied, then we can re-issue the operations certificate.”

As reported last week, the fate of South Africa’s airlines has partially been exacerbated by the political situation in the country. A parliamentary meeting to discuss the future of SAA was again called off this week due to political differences. SAA requires a cash injection of 5 billion rand (401 million dollars) to meet debt obligations, but South African media report that National Treasury Director-General Dondo Mogajane told parliament a bailout could not come from the government.

The South African government has so far pumped 20 billion rand (1.6 billion dollars) into the airline. Mogajane has suggested the treasury would be willing to consider selling a stake in SAA to a private equity partner to raise the funds instead of a publically-funded capital injection from the government.

John Flett
John Flett
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