SA Express grounded over ‘serious safety hazards’

30 April 2016 - 14:43 By TMG Digital
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The South African Civil Aviation Authority on Saturday suspended SA Express’ Air Operator Certificate‚ with immediate effect‚ due to concerns over serious safety hazards that pose a risk to the crew‚ passengers‚ and the public.

"It is critical to note that this suspension is precautionary and taken in the interest of safety and preventing incidents that can be catastrophic‚” the aviation authority said of the SAX grounding.

A statement by the aviation authority – in which it highlighted the need for safety above profit - said the suspension follows a series of non-compliances and the SACAA’s dissatisfaction with the operator’s safety monitoring systems‚ which are meant to monitor and address any safety deficiencies.

The Regulator also found the operator’s proposed corrective action plan inadequate “as it does not satisfactorily address the findings raised”.

SA Express (SAX) has the right to appeal the decision with the Director of Civil Aviation within 30 days. It is a domestic and regional‚ passenger and cargo carrier established on 24 April 1994.

The SACAA said recent inspections and audits on the airline’s operations have pointed to: - inefficient safety monitoring systems‚ and - some level of failure by the operator to satisfactorily address concerns raised by the Regulator.

“The SACAA views the inefficiency of the safety monitoring systems in a serious light as it poses serious safety hazards and risks to the crew‚ passengers‚ and the public at large.

“For this reason‚ the Regulator cannot allow the operator to continue with operations until such time that the identified safety concerns are adequately addressed.”

It noted: “As much as the SACAA is fully aware of the effect and disruptions the suspension has on passengers; it is equally important to note that the decision was not taken lightly and is‚ in fact‚ in the interest of ensuring that the operator’s safety systems are beyond reproach and can offer an acceptable level of safety for passengers and crew.”

Unsafe operations have the potential to undermine the growth and development of the aviation industry‚ as well as the country’s highly regarded civil aviation safety and security standards‚ the SACAA said.

“The Regulator is dedicated to upholding the country’s impeccable zero percent accident fatality rate in terms of scheduled operations.

“Aviation safety and security must always be prioritised ahead of commercial gains.”

Operators had a primary responsibility to ensure that their operations are safe and secure at all times‚ the regulator said.

“Failure to do so is a contravention of the applicable civil aviation regulations. Moreover‚ aviation safety and security are of paramount importance in this industry; and passengers require some form of assurance that once they board an aircraft they will automatically land safely and hassle-free at their intended destination.”

The SACAA said it is receiving full cooperation from SA Express.

SA Express has in recent years managed to turn a small profit‚ mostly thanks to extreme cost-cutting measures. However‚ chairman of the board George Mothema admitted earlier this month that were it not for government guarantees‚ which allowed them to borrow privately‚ the airline would not be able to function as a going concern.

Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Bulelani Magwanishe told parliament’s select committee on public accounts (Scopa) in mid-April that government is exploring a merger between South African Airways (SAA)‚ SA Express and Mango airlines. He said a merger would allow the three airlines to streamline finances and technical expertise.

Scopa members expressed concern about the lateness and quality of SAX’s financial statements‚ which contained material misstatements‚ and their failure to meet nearly half their targets.

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