SA Express. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES/BRIAN BAHR
SA Express. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES/BRIAN BAHR

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) has accepted plans submitted by SA Express for corrective action following the grounding of the state-owned regional carrier in May 2018.

The government agency suspended SA Express’s certification issued by the Aircraft Maintenance Organisations SA (Amosa) and airworthiness certificates for nine of 21 of its aircraft over non-compliance with safety regulations, which meant SA Express could no longer operate as an airline.

On Thursday, SA Express said the Sacaa had reinstated its Amosa certification on June 22. Since then, it had undergone a corrective process to meet the regulator’s standards, it said in an official communiqué. It was now in the final phase of a five-phase process to re-certify the airline’s operator’s certificate.

In 2016, the airline was grounded for 36 hours, but was allowed to resume operations based on undertakings to improve safety and maintenance.

Aviation expert Joachim Vermooten said in June that the airline was unlikely to recover from being grounded. Considering the R21.1bn shortfall at SA Express’s parent company South African Airways (SAA), Vermooten said the cost to get SA Express back into the market would be enormous. "And that is not counting the cost of restructuring and paying off creditors."

He said the best course of action would be to redeploy SA Express’s skilled personnel to SAA, where there was a shortage, then to close the airline. Although SA’s airline market was not yet saturated, the problem was that state subsidies to SAA and its franchises had quashed competition, said Vermooten, adding that 28 years after the start of deregulation of SA’s aviation industry, all domestic routes were, in effect, monopolistic — even if they were operated by different carriers — because the market was never allowed to develop through competition.

Refilwe Masemola, the airline’s spokesperson, said SA Express was "intensely focused" on tackling the root causes that had led to the grounding and that it had now restructured its internal processes. She said Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan had expressed his satisfaction with the developments at SA Express and quoted him as saying its board and his ministerial intervention team, together with loyal staff, had made "significant progress to return the airline to full operation in the very near future".

The grounding of SA Express came just hours after Gordhan had asked the Cabinet to appoint a new board at the airline with Tryphosa Ramano as chairperson.

blomn@businesslive.co.za

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