Who, why and for how long: Understanding the grounded planes drama in SA

23 October 2019 - 17:01 By Unathi Nkanjeni

Comair and operations at OR Tambo International are back to normal after planes were grounded on Tuesday, but there has been no confirmation from SAA and Mango on whether its business as usual.

OR Tambo announced the news on social media on Wednesday, urging travellers to contact their airline for any further information.

“We thank you for your patience and co-operation.”

Comair also issued a statement, saying that its full fleet is expected to be back in operation.

Why the grounding?

TimesLIVE reported that Comair (Kulula.com and British Airways), SAA and Mango flights were grounded after the SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) issued a notice relating to irregularities found during an audit of their maintenance and technical service provider.

However, according to a Sunday Times report, Mango denied claims that SA Airways Technical (Saat) used fake parts on aircraft it services after one of its planes made an emergency landing at OR Tambo International Airport in September.

Number of flights

More than 10 domestic flights were affected.

TimesLIVE reported that SAA said there were four flight cancellations so they took steps to combine flights and deploy bigger aircraft to accommodate affected passengers.

British Airways listed eight flights affected, while Kulula.com had one.

How long will they persist and how will issues be resolved on SAA and Mango?

Mango Airlines is optimistic that it can get things back on track soon.

In a statement, the airline said some of the affected planes could resume service as early as Tuesday afternoon. However, the company did confirm that maintenance work to its fleet is still ongoing.

“Mango Airlines can confirm that on the evening of 21 October 2019, the airline was notified by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) of the findings of an audit conducted at SAA Technical that affected some of our aircraft.

“As safety is our primary concern, we immediately began working with SAA Technical throughout the night to rectify these findings and are confident that we will have aircraft that are safe and ready for service during the course of today. However, as the process is not yet concluded, this does mean that some delays will be experienced throughout the day.

“Mango Airlines has activated contingency plans to minimise disruption during the course of today and ensure our guests reach their destinations safely. We will continue to update affected guests via SMS and will publish updated schedules on our social media platforms.”

TimesLIVE reported on Tuesday that SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said some of its flights would operate later than usual, with contingency measures being put in place as it has had to “recall some of its aircraft to undertake compliance verification in line with the Sacaa requirements”.

Not a crisis

Addressing the media at parliament in Cape Town during a briefing on Tuesday, transport minister Fikile Mbalula said operations were expected to be back to normal by the end of the week.

He insisted that “there's no crisis” in the aviation industry, TimesLIVE reported.

“This is not a total shutdown, it's not a crisis. It's not the first time that planes have been grounded for different reasons.

“This happens all the time, you would have seen a particular airline was grounded for a period of time and has found its way back into action after addressing some of the challenges the airline was faced with,” Mbalula said.

Impact on tourism

While the chaos is expected to upset a number of travellers this week, Mbalula said airlines will be back on “speed and everything will be back to normal”.

“SAA, in particular, has developed an action plan which has been accepted by Sacaa in terms of addressing some of the challenges that have been raised with them,” he said.