CemAir planes to take to the skies soon, says CEO

02 October 2019 - 14:31
CemAir’s operations were suspended in December. File photo.
CemAir’s operations were suspended in December. File photo.
Image: FlyCemAir

CemAir planes could take to the skies again within the next week or two, according to the airline’s MD Miles van der Molen.

The airline’s operations were suspended - not for the first time - in December at the height of the festive season due to what the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) called “concerns over the systematic failure of the airline’s maintenance controls”.

The CAA said CemAir had been unable to prove the “continued airworthiness” of its fleet of 21 planes which service major South African cities as well as towns such as Margate, Hoedspruit, Plettenberg Bay and Richards Bay.

Four months ago, the civil aviation appeal committee set aside the two grounding notices, calling the CAA’s decision “irrational, arbitrary, unreasonable and procedurally unfair”.

But the fleet has remained on the ground while the airline has been made to “jump through hoops” by the CAA, Van der Molen said this week.

“We must be the safest airline in the world by now,” he said.

Asked whether he thought his planes would be carrying passengers by Christmas, he said: “Definitely. In fact, we’re hoping that's going happen within the week.”

It would be a scaled down version of its previous operation, though, he said. “We will launch a domestic schedule again, but not the same as before; the local economy has pulled back in the past nine months.”

Meanwhile, thousands of people who had purchased CemAir tickets they were unable to use are still waiting for refunds, eight months on.

Many have complained of their e-mails being ignored, and the airline’s website and Facebook page have not been updated since May.

“We are doing our best, and more than half of those who had legitimate claims have already been refunded,” said Van der Molen. “But we do not pander to those who are rude on social media,” he said. “It would be unfair to those who are not.”

The airline had been “inundated” with fraudulent claims, which had slowed down the refund process, he said. About 14% of claims had been found to be fraudulent so far.

They were filed by people who never had a ticket at all; those who flew on the ticket and are now wanting a refund, and those who got a chargeback from their bank but were  seeking a refund from the airline as well, he added.

Chargeback is a consumer protection offered by credit card companies Mastercard and Visa via their issuing banks - if goods or a service paid for with a credit card are not supplied and the consumer can prove it, they can apply to their bank for a chargeback.

The bank then contacts the service provider’s bank and requests a refund.

Jeanine Montocchio of Durban paid for a Durban to Plettenberg Bay return trip on CemAir, departing on December 29 2018. In mid-mid-December she received an e-mail from CemAir informing her that the flight had been cancelled due to the indefinite suspension of the airline’s operating certificates.

She was told to expect her refund within eight weeks, as were many others.

When that hadn’t happened months later, and she had had no responses to her e-mails, she applied to Absa for a R2,229 chargeback, and was duly refunded.

“I didn’t inform the airline of my successful chargeback, because they hadn’t been acknowledging my e-mails,” she said.

Van der Molen said the airline would update its website and Facebook page as soon as it had “something to communicate”.

“It’s been a bitter time for everyone, and we apologise profusely to our customers,” he said. "Our losses have been massive and our legal fees have run into the millions, but we will recover.”

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via email: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.