British Airways were the first to take order of the Boeing 737 Max 8 but have since grounded the plane following the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Picture: RATSTUBEN
Cape Town - Frustrated airline passengers are irate at the increasingly long flight delays at airports around the country, especially during peak periods like weekends and holiday seasons.

Sources in the aviation sector put the blame on embattled SAA Technical (Saat), which is a subsidiary of SAA but also provides services to other airlines and aviation companies.

Saat has been plagued by reports of corruption and maladministration and was “under siege” with theft.

An aviation source, who wanted to remain anonymous, said theft because of breaches in security and a lack of aircraft parts, made it difficult to service planes on time and this wreaked havoc with flight schedules causing delays and flight disruptions.

Kulula.com and British Airways, who are both operated by Comair, and SAA’s low cost airline, Mango, have had to increasingly delay flights.

Recent delays have lasted as long as 11 hours and have resulted in extra costs for travellers who missed connecting flights.

On Wednesday, ahead of the long weekend rush, Mango rescheduled a number of flights leaving travellers furious and frustrated.

“We are experiencing scheduled maintenance that has overrun its planned time which is leaving us with a burden on our operations.

“As part of our mitigation, we have realigned our May schedule to meet capacity,” the airline said.

Comair spokesperson Wrenelle Stander said the airline’s delays were due to problems with inventory and maintenance at their aircraft maintenance organisation, which did the line maintenance for all Boeing 737s in South Africa.

The airline has a new agreement with Lufthansa Technik, but that only comes into effect in a few months.

“We are in the process of transitioning our fleet from Saat, this will take between 18-24 months.

“We’ve invested R100million in addressing the issue and in the short-term, we’ve moved major servicing of aircraft overseas at a cost of around R353m,” she said.

Comair chief executive Eric Venter, said in previous reports, for these reasons the airline decided to take its business elsewhere.

Comair hoped to transition their fleet with the introduction of the Boeing 737 Max 8. But those plans were stalled following the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

“Comair took delivery of its first Max 8 on February 27. The second was due to be delivered on March 18. Boeing agreed to defer this delivery at Comair’s request,” said Stander.

The SA Civil Aviation Authority, said following the Ethiopian crash, the US-based Federal Aviation Authority issued a ban on Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9.

Mango airlines have considered moving from Saat to Lufthansa Technik.

Last year, in a meeting with the chairperson of the National Assembly standing committee of public accounts, Themba Godi, and senior SAA executives, Godi said the technical division was under siege with equipment stolen from the facilities due to a breach in security. In an auditors’ report it was found that Saat’s inventory could not be verified and there were insufficient controls in place to manage the inventory.

Meanwhile, Comair and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA were in talks yesterday to negotiate wage increases ahead of a proposed nationwide strike for all Comair ground staff.

Department of Tourism spokesperson Blessing Manale said: “We engage with the Airports Company SA and the airlines on a constant basis to make sure that we raise our concerns with them. Airlines cannot compromise safety.

Chief executive at Cape Town Tourism Enver Duminy, said visits to the city over Easter helped boost the local tourism economy.

“With increased financial pressure for all South Africans combined with limited time to visit Cape Town, any delays or friction in the customer journey devalues the positive experience that could be enjoyed here.

“Reduced time in-destination visitors may forfeit some experiences, which will have an impact on a tourism sector that is trying to climb out of a series of declining numbers,” said Duminy.

Deputy president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce Jacques Moolman said flight delays are “probably more prominent during the holiday season because there are more flights”.

“It is difficult to estimate the cost to business due to delays, but the cost to the airline is substantial and running an airline profitably is a challenging business as it is,” he said.

Last Friday, two UCT students and siblings Alice, 21, and Murray, 19, Finlay were flying British Airways flight BA6309 to Durban but were delayed for 11 hours. “It was delayed and it changed to delayed indefinitely,” said their mother, Debra.

“This carried on for hours and for you to get any information you had to leave the part of the airport where you’ve gone through security to speak to the staff at the BA desk.

“They just shrugged their shoulders and didn’t know what was going on,” said Finlay.

Last month Ashwin Santhilal, wanted to treat his wife to a 50th birthday in India and booked a flight from Durban to Joburg with Kulula and from Joburg to India with Etihad Airways via Abu Dhabi.

While Santhilal and his wife were on their way to the airport they were told that their flight, which was due to depart at 3.10pm was delayed by an hour.

By the time the couple had boarded, the flight incurred another delay and only landed in Joburg at 7.15pm and they missed their connecting flight.

Santhilal complained to Kulula ground staff but was unsuccessful and was forced to spend a night in a hotel and buy new tickets with Emirates airlines for the following day costing him more than R22000.

Fellow passenger Clive Gounden, said he also missed his connecting international flight because of the four-hour delay on Kulula.

Weekend Argus