SA Express grounded in safety scare

SA Express has been grounded amid serious safety concerns.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority suspended the airline’s operating permits on Thursday‚ saying: “This effectively means that as of today … SA Express can no longer continue to operate as an airline.”

Nine of SA Express’s 21 aircraft also had their certificates of airworthiness withdrawn.

The suspension happened on the same day that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan announced the appointment of a new SA Express board.

Poppy Khoza‚ the director of civil aviation‚ said the decision followed an audit of the SAA subsidiary and its maintenance organisation‚ which “uncovered severe cases of non-compliance that pose serious safety risks”.

“There were 17 findings‚ of which five are categorised as Level 1 findings in civil aviation terms‚” said a CAA statement.

“A Level 1 category finding can be described as a ‘severe non-compliance or non-conformance that poses a very serious safety or security risk to the public and will necessitate the immediate exercising of the discretionary enforcement powers vested in the authorised persons‚ in the interests of safeguarding aviation safety or security’.”

The airline could not ensure that operational requirements and‚ most importantly‚ safety obligations were met at all times‚ the statement said.

“Therefore‚ the grounding of SA Express operations was inevitable‚ because in simpler terms the safety management system of the airline was found to be deficient.”

TimesLIVE reported earlier in May how passengers on a flight from East London to Johannesburg cried and prayed when an engine malfunctioned in mid-air.

“In the air‚ I actually imagined my own funeral. Literally‚ people were crying and praying. Men were praying in different languages‚ including Chinese tourists‚” said Vuyo Zitumane.

SA Express acting CEO Matsietsi Mokholo later confirmed there was an “engine malfunction” on flight SA1412.

At the same time‚ a second SA Express flight — from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth – had to return to the airport because of technical problems.

Said Khoza: “As the custodian of aviation safety and security in the country‚ the SACAA 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.

“The SACAA is fully aware and regrets the inconvenience and disruption this decision would have on passengers. However‚ it is equally important to note that decisions to revoke licences are naturally challenging‚ but are necessary and in the interests of ensuring that the operator’s safety systems are beyond reproach‚ and that its aircraft can take off and land at the intended destinations relatively safely and incident-free.”

The CAA said SA Express was expected to fly all affected aircraft back to the home base.

This is a developing story.

Dave Chambers – TimesLIVE

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