South African Regional Carrier Ordered to Ground Entire Fleet Over Safety Risks
A South African airline has just been ordered to ground its entire fleet of 21 planes after an aviation audit revealed a number of non-compliant issues that compromise aircraft safety.
South African Express, also known as SA Express, is a government-owned regional airline that operates smaller routes on behalf of the national carrier, South African Airways. A brief notice posted on the South African Express website Thursday stated that "SA Express confirms that the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has suspended the airline’s Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) as well as the certification for an Approved Maintenance Organisation (AMO). The SACAA finding relates, amongst others, to the safety management processes within the airline."
The ruling comes just days after two separate SA Express flights had to make emergency landings on May 11, one of which suffered an explosion soon after takeoff. As part of the audit ruling, nine of the 21 aircraft also had their certificates of airworthiness suspended.
SACAA Director of Civil Aviation Poppy Khoza said that the SACAA “cannot turn a blind eye to any operation where there is overwhelming evidence that safety measures are compromised, because that automatically poses serious danger for the crew, passengers, and the public at large.”
Essentially, this means the airline is officially barred from operation as of May 24. Even if SA Express had the funds required to reapply for all the approvals required to pass inspection, the process could take weeks or months – and the carrier, which has been plagued with allegations of financial corruption as well as operational setbacks, most certainly does not have the money on hand.
This ruling could very well spell doom for SA Express, as this isn't the first time the airline has been ordered to cease operating certain planes until safety measures were up to snuff. In 2017, SA Promo Magazine reported that SA Express lost "an estimated $400,000 monthly in lease rates for grounded aircraft that are not in use, because there is no money to pay suppliers for parts to service the aircraft, and is having to pay to charter aircraft."
The SA Express fleet consists of 10 Bombardier CRJ 200s, four Bombardier CRJ 700s, and 10 Bombardier Q400s, which seat between 50 to 70 passengers.
The aviation industry in South Africa as a whole has been on shaky financial ground for some time, with South African Airways facing bankruptcy for many years now. There have been rumors that the two carriers might merge in order to consolidate their resources, but that may all change now that SA Express is all but defunct.