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In addition, the SACAA has also suspended the Certificates of Airworthiness (CoA) of nine (9) of the twenty-one (21) aircraft being operated by the airline.
In order to be able to operate, SA Express will have to reapply and be issued with relevant approvals, i.e. an air operating certificate, and an approval for the aircraft maintenance organisation, and certificates of airworthiness for the grounded aircraft.
The audit coincided with the introduction of a stabilisation programme at the airline, which has undergone significant leadership changes over the last twelve months.
Serious non-compliance uncovered
The decision to revoke the airline’s permits comes after the SACAA conducted an audit at the airline and its maintenance organisation recently, which uncovered severe cases of non-compliance that pose serious safety risks.
While the SACAA does not make the details of its audit findings public; it can, however, be revealed that there were 17 findings, of which five are categorised as Level 1 findings in civil aviation terms. 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’.
Grounding of SA Express operations inevitable
The airline could not ensure that operational requirements, and most importantly, safety obligations are met at all times. 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.
“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,” said Ms Poppy Khoza, who leads the SACAA as Director of Civil Aviation.
“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,” Khoza explained.
Following this grounding, it is expected that the operator would make arrangements with the SACAA to fly all affected aircraft back to the home base.
“The SACAA as the regulator implores all operators and licence-holders to uphold unquestionable levels of aviation safety and security at all times. Compliance with the applicable regulations is mandatory and should never be treated as an after-thought or an optional operational requirement. We should all work towards keeping our skies safe in order to preserve lives; and in the process maintain South Africa’s impeccable zero percent accident fatality record in the airline and scheduled operations sector, which has been standing for many years,” Khoza concluded.
“Passenger safety remains our top proiority” – SA Express
“Passenger safety remains our top priority and our 24-year safety record reflects this. We are therefore working closely with the SACAA to address the issues highlighted by them,’’ says Matsietsi Mokholo, acting CEO of SA Express.
SA Express will, in line with the airline’s compensation policy, accommodate passengers on other airlines and refund tickets. The airline is working to ensure the least amount of inconvenience for all their customers.
“SA Express promises to aid our travellers as much as possible and to keep them up-to-date with the latest information regarding their flight changes. Should customers experience any problems they can access the latest information on our website,” said Mokholo.