46 aircraft self-grounded by airlines, skies are safe: Fikile Mbalula
Red flags were raised over unqualified personnel signing off maintenance work and checks on flight recorders
Findings by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) relating to non-compliance by SA Airways Technical (Saat) on a number of civil aviation regulations led to three airlines self-grounding 46 aircraft to ensure they were airworthy.
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula announced this on Thursday, after a mass grounding of aircraft, which caused delays in scheduled flights on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mbalula said an inspection by Sacaa at Saat, an approved aircraft maintenance organisation, revealed some safety concerns.
He said the audit of Saat resulted in five findings relating to non-compliance with civil aviation regulations.
The two main findings, he said, related to unqualified personnel releasing or signing off maintenance work, and maintenance checks on flight data recorders and voice recorders that had not been done correctly.
Mbalula said even though the aviation authority accepted the corrective action plan by Saat, the two main findings, which may affect SA Airways (SAA), Mango Airlines and Comair's entire fleets, remained cause for concern for Sacaa.
“It is against this backdrop that Sacaa engaged with the affected airlines to solicit assurance that the rest of the fleet does not display the same deficiencies.”
Mbalula said Sacaa then directed Saat and the three airlines to conduct verification exercises on their fleets to ensure that in terms of these two irregularities, their aircraft were airworthy.
Mbalula said the feedback received by Sacaa indicated that 25 SAA aircraft, 14 Comair aircraft and seven Mango aircraft were affected.
He said Mango, SAA and Comair responded by self-grounding the aircraft, pending the assessment by Sacaa.
“The airlines co-operated with (Sacaa) and submitted evidence, which the regulator spent the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday evaluating,” Mbalula said.
Sacaa director Poppy Khoza said of the 46 aircraft, 40 of them had been released back to service after satisfying the regulator that they were compliant.
Mbalula said SA skies remained safe.
He said the number of aircraft accidents could be used as a barometer to indicate the effective administration of civil aviation safety and security oversight. Sacaa had assisted SA to retain the impeccable zero-fatal-accident record in relation to airlines and other scheduled commercial operations, Mbalula said.
“I want to reiterate, there is no crisis. This work is routine and normal for Sacaa. Grounding aircraft happens for various reasons at all times.”