A man cycles past aircraft in the SAA fleet parked at OR Tambo International Airport. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
A man cycles past aircraft in the SAA fleet parked at OR Tambo International Airport. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Passengers have been warned about possible disruptions at Comair and SAA, after the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) grounded some planes.

According to Comair, a third of its planes were grounded after a notice was issued relating to irregularities found during an audit of its maintenance and technical service provider.

The airline said it had contingency plans in place and, adding that it expected the full fleet to be back in operation by Wednesday morning. “The flight schedule has been amended for today and we are working tirelessly to normalise the schedule and minimise disruption for our customers,” the company said.

Kulula and British Airways customers have been urged to check their flight status on the websites, ba.com and kulula.com. 

SAA also warned customers of possible disruptions, after the aviation authority recalled some aircraft to undertake compliance verification.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the decision was made after an oversight inspection conducted by the aviation authority at the airline’s maintenance subsidiary, SAA Technical.

Tlali said flights were expected to operate later than usual and SAA had implemented contingency plans to ensure business continuity. He said there were four domestic flight cancellations, but the airline took steps to combine flights and deploy bigger aircraft to accommodate affected passengers.

The Sunday Times previously reported that the airline refuted claims that SAA Technical used fake parts on aircraft it services. That was after a Mango flight made an emergency landing at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in September.

The grounding comes almost a year after SAA Technical CEO Wellington Nyuswa was replaced after six months at the helm of the SAA subsidiary.

Nyuswa was appointed as acting CEO in March 2018 after the suspension of CEO Musa Zwane, along with SAA’s CFO, Phumeza Nhantsi, after a qualified audit report by the auditor-general.

The report found, among other matters, that SAA Technical’s inventory could not be verified and that there were insufficient controls in place to manage the inventory. It also found glaring accounting irregularities on maintenance costs and that incorrect exchange rates had been recorded.

A preliminary “serious incident report” by the SACAA highlighted a defective replacement motor with a service history that “could not be determined with certainty”.

The board at SAA denied claims by SAA’s legal, risk and compliance executive Vusi Pikoli that the airline had been infiltrated by an international crime syndicate that had looted hundreds of millions of rand through questionable tenders, including the supply of possibly suspect parts.

Pikoli told the Sunday Times that the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had revived organised crime and serious corruption investigations at the airline.

gernetzkyk@businesslive.co.za