Johannesburg - South African Airways (SAA) has cancelled Saturday and Monday’s flights to Blantyre in Malawi due to an audit conducted at the Chileka International Airport in Blantyre for airport compliance.

"While the airport authority continues to keep the airport open, the essential services at Chileka International Airport are not fully compliant with minimum standards required for SAA to operate in line with its licensing conditions," the airline said in a travel advisory posted on its website. 

"SAA has therefore taken the decision to cancel two of its flights operating on Saturday and Monday to and from Blantyre," it said.

SAA, in conjunction with the relevant authorities, would work on ensuring the airport met the operational requirements set out in SAA's licensing conditions and to the satisfaction of its regulator, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

The flights affected were: Saturday, SA172 19 January 2019 | Johannesburg to Blantyre and SA173 19 January 2019 | Blantyre to Johannesburg; Monday, SA172 21 January 2019 | Johannesburg to Blantyre and SA173 21 January 2019 |Blantyre to Johannesburg.

SAA advised that customers could choose to be re-routed between Johannesburg and Lilongwe (LLW) for the period January 19 to 21. Customers would be re-accommodated to these scheduled flights: SA170 - Johannesburg (JNB) - Lilongwe (LLW) and SA171 - Lilongwe (LLW) - Johannesburg (JNB)

"SAA will rebook affected passengers on to the operation between Johannesburg and Lilongwe, where applicable; re-accommodation of reservations has been made by South African Airways on to the closest available flight between Johannesburg and Lilongwe. In the event customers do not want to travel to Lilongwe, they can request a full refund of the unused portion/ticket," the advisory said.

In a statement on Saturday, the SACAA said the "self-imposed sanction" was the airline's reaction to a level one finding raised by the SACAA following a base inspection of SAA's operations in Malawi.

"A level one finding can be described as a severe non-compliance that poses serious safety risk and requires the licence holder to adequately address the findings and failure of which necessitates immediate enforcement action by the regulator.

"The level one finding raised against the national carrier primarily relates to the inadequacy of aviation infrastructure facilities and related emergency support services offered at Chileka International Airport, one of the two Malawian bases utilised by SAA.

“The SACAA inspection exposed several non-compliances, some of which are cause for serious concern. Notably, the airport’s perimeter fence is vandalised and falls short of the set international standards. Due to lack of maintenance, both the ambulance and fire engine are not dependable.

“This state of affairs may have catastrophic consequences for the airline’s passengers and crew in an event that one of their aircraft or surrounding facilities catches fire, because as things stand that would mean that emergency support services would not be instantly available as prescribed by civil aviation regulations worldwide.

“After receiving the inspection report which also detailed the findings, SAA developed and submitted a corrective action plan (CAP) to SACAA. Before SACAA could complete the CAP review process, SAA informed the regulator of its intention to halt operations into and out of Blantyre.”

The cancellation of SAA’s Blantyre operations would remain in place until such time that the findings raised by SACAA had been adequately addressed and a follow-up inspection regarding the findings had been conducted, the statement said.

African News Agency/ANA