Neels Blom Writer at large
Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has grounded the state-owned carrier SA Express with immediate effect, says the government agency.

SACAA has also suspended certificates of airworthiness for nine of 21 of SA Express’s aircraft. It means the carrier can no longer operate as an airline.

The agency said on Thursday SA Express would have to reapply and be issued with an air operating certificate and an approval for the aircraft maintenance organisation and certificates of airworthiness for the grounded aircraft

This comes on the same day as Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan announced he had appointed a new board at the carrier after the suspension of several executive managers on allegations of corruption.

An audit found, among other irregularities, that SA Express paid R5.7m to the Gupta-linked Trillian Capital for advisory services and to raise capital.

Gordhan said the SACAA’s grounding of the airline was a classic example of the effect of corruption and malfeasance on the country’s national assets.

“SA Express Airways remains a critical player in the economy in connecting smaller towns to the major economic hubs. An urgent recovery of the airlines is therefore critical to minimise the impact,” he said.

Earlier in May, two SA Express flights had to abort after take-off with technical problems. In one incident, one of the engines allegedly exploded.

The SACAA’s action follows an audit at the airline and its maintenance organisation over the past few days that had uncovered severe cases of noncompliance that posed serious safety risks, the agency said.

“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,” the agency said.

“A Level 1 category finding can be described as a severe noncompliance or nonconformance that poses a very serious safety risk to the public.”

SA Express said the audit coincided with the introduction of a stabilisation programme at the airline, which had undergone significant leadership changes over the past year.

SA Express undertook to accommodate passengers on other airlines and refund tickets, the spokesman said.