Neels Blom Writer at large

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan is satisfied with the progress made at South African Express (SAX) and the regional airline could soon be flying again, SAX spokeswoman Refilwe Masemola said on Thursday.

SAX was grounded hours after Gordhan asked the Cabinet to appoint a new board.

The Civil Aviation Authority suspended SAX’s certification issued by the Aircraft Maintenance Organisation SA (Amosa) and airworthiness certificates for nine of 21 of its aircraft over noncompliance with safety regulations. It meant SAX could no longer operate as an airline.

The Civil Aviation Authority has now accepted plans submitted by the airline for corrective action following the grounding of the state-owned regional carrier in May.

On Thursday, SAX said that the aviation authority had reinstated its Amosa certification on June22.

Since then SAX had undergone a corrective process to meet the regulator’s standards, it said in a statement.

It was now in the final phase of a five-phase process to recertify the airline’s operator’s certificate, it said.

Masemola said that the ministerial intervention team and staff at SAX had made "significant progress to return the airline to full operation in the very near future".

The airline was grounded in 2016 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 SAX’s parent company, South African Airways, Vermooten said that the cost to get SAX back into the market would be enormous, and "that is not counting the cost of restructuring and paying off creditors".

The best course of action would be to redeploy SAX’s skilled personnel to SAA, where there was a shortage, and then to close the airline, he said.

Although SA’s airline market was not yet saturated, the problem was that state subsidies to SAA and its franchises had quashed competition, Vermooten said.

He said 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.

Masemola said that SAX was "intensely focused" on tackling the root causes that had led to the grounding.

It had now restructured its internal processes.