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CAPE TOWN - South African Express’s operating permits have been suspended by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). 

The decision means that South African Express will effectively be grounded. 

The company said in a statement that it has suspended the airline's operator’s certificate, its maintenance organisation approvals and the certificates of airworthiness of nine of its 21 aircrafts. 

In order for SA Express to regain its permits, it has to reapply and obtain approvals from the relevant institutions. 

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 in the past several days, 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 seventeen (17) findings, of which five (5) are categorised as Level 1 findings in civil aviation terms, the statement said. 

 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 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 to 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 (0%) accident fatality record in the airline and scheduled operations sector, which has been standing for many years,” Khoza concluded.


DODGY DEAL

Earlier today Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan revealed that SA Express paid R5.7 million to Trillian Capital without following proper processes.

Gordhan announced a new board for SA Express earlier today and said, "an intervention team, the technical support team and the new board will work together to bring stability to the airline."

Tryphosa Ramano is the chairperson of the board which includes Ronald Lamola, Thulani Kgomo, Thandiwe January-McLean, Kugan Thaver, Bongisiwe Mpondo, Hlengiwe Thandeka Makhathini, Thabi Leoka and Ahmed Bassa. The term of the former board expired on May 21.

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.

Gordhan revealed that within four days of starting work, his intervention team had discovered two 'dodgy' contracts. 

MERGER

Gordhan also announced that South African Airways (SAA), SA Express and Mango will be merged into one enitity.

“Bringing the airlines together and rationalising their routes and important. Rationalising 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,” he said.

“It’s that synergy and savings. Our net guess is that by putting the airlines together, we can go through a transition period where there are going to be difficulties.

“If you have something dysfunctional and (you) try to sell it, you will get little for it. The real challenge is putting the right people in the right places both on boards and management teams, and having the right oversight,” he said.

-BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE