Entire South African Express Fleet Grounded Over Safety Concerns

Filed Under: South African Airways

South African Express (SA Express) is a regional carrier in South Africa. It’s owned by the government and operates flights on behalf of South African Airways, similar to how regional carriers operate flights for major carriers in the US.

The South African aviation industry in general is in quite a bit of trouble, as South African Airways has been on the brink of liquidation for a while. However, that sort of pales in comparison to what just happened at SA Express.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has just suspended SA Express’ Air Operator’s Certificate (AoC) as well as their Aircraft Maintenance Organisation (AMO) approvals. They’ve also suspended the Certificates of Airworthiness (CoA) for nine of the 21 aircraft being operated by the airline.

That means that as of today, SA Express can no longer operate as an airline, and their entire fleet is grounded. If they want to restart operations they’ll have to reapply for all of these approvals, which would be a major process. So this airline isn’t just grounded for days, but probably weeks at a minimum, maybe months, or who knows, maybe SA Express won’t fly again.

While the exact details of what has been found haven’t been made public, some information has been revealed:

The decision to revoke the airline‟s permits comes after the SACAA conducted an audit at the airline and its maintenance organisation in the past several days, which uncovered severe cases of non-compliance that pose serious safety risks. While the SACAA does not make the details of its audit findings public; it can, however, be revealed that there were seventeen (17) findings, of which five (5) are categorised as Level 1 findings in civil aviation terms. A Level 1 category finding can be described as a „severe non-compliance or non-conformance that poses a very serious safety or security risk to the public and will necessitate the immediate exercising of the discretionary enforcement powers vested in the authorised persons, in the interests of safeguarding aviation safety or security‟.

Much like South African Airways, SA Express has long been in a terrible financial situation. Last year the airline had to ground planes because they couldn’t afford to pay for parts. So I guess it’s no surprise that now, almost a year later, these kinds of issues are emerging.

As I mentioned above, SAA is also in a bad situation, and this will have a negative impact on them, given that they sell tickets that include travel on SA Express as well.

I’ll be curious to see how this develops, though it doesn’t look good. It’s not often you see an airline with nearly two dozen planes grounded overnight over safety concerns. It’s also not going to be easy for them to fix this and get their certifications passed without a much larger financial discussion. That’s because the airline already hasn’t been able to afford parts and proper maintenance, so I feel like getting all of these planes back in the air would be nearly impossible without a bailout from the government.

So expect this fleet grounding to (likely) be for weeks at a minimum, if the airline does ever fly again. Lastly, I should probably note that this is one of SAA’s two regional affiliates — they also work with SA Airlink, which isn’t impacted by this.

(Tip of the hat to Sean M., featured image courtesy of Bob Adams)

  1. I’m now questioning the trip to Kruger I was just starting to plan. In light of this what’s the best way to get from JNB to Hoedspruit?

  2. Racists love to be keyboard warriors and when they do decide to intervene in a situation it’s always with women and kids, not other grown men… cause their really bitch made lol.

  3. @mjolnir22
    I don’t know if you’ve considered it, but I know CemAir has a flight between Hoedspruit and Joburg. Otherwise look at SA Airlinks flights. They fly into Kruger as well as to Nelspruit.

  4. This same situation happened to me mid-safari trip about 2 or 3 years ago. We get to the airport to fly to JNB and SAA had been grounded. Total chaos……..we ended up hopping on some private CRJ (no livery or anything) plane after paying $150 each one way and they even had full bagged lunches ready for us when we boarded and free beer/wine!

  5. @mjolnir22 There are plenty of overland options to get to Kruger if flying doesn’t work out. When I went we took a scheduled service minibus to Nelspruit which took iirc around 4 hours.

  6. We have not sold South African the last year, as long as there have been decent options. They are terrible to find solutions when something happens.

  7. @Turtle full-service SAA flights (both domestic and international) aren’t affected.

    Enjoy Joburg!

  8. Last december i flew a JNB to HDS with SA Dash 8 aircraft return. There is an airline named Cemair that operates in the same route with CRJ.

  9. Wow. Just when the multi billion pound airport opens on the remote island of St Helena finally opens with its sole operator SA Express and the ship that used to service the island sold off. Interesting to see what the UK government does as a matter of urgency.

  10. @Mjolnir22, JNB to Kruger is only 4-5 hours drive (depending where you go. Roads are relatively good and the drive is thru some pleasant areas. It also helps to have a car there if you are going between lodges/hotels and don’t want to be stuck in one place. Rental cars are also relatively cheap and there are lots of places to take a break on the way.

  11. “In light of this what’s the best way to get from JNB to Hoedspruit?”

    Just drive! It’s easy. I’m returning to JNB on Tuesday and it’s a super-easy airport to rent a car from. My preferred car for driving Kruger and the rest of South Africa is a Toyota Corolla… you can handle almost all the roads there in a Corolla and we saw all the Big 5 within 24 hours of arriving in the park.

  12. Will the weather b fine for a CPT trip last week of April first week of May ???
    Got my Flying Blue points .
    Thank You

  13. Late April/Early May is a good time to visit SA, as the weather is still fair, but a lot of people aren’t visiting. It’s one of the best times for a safari as it’s the beginning of mating season and the lack of rain means fauna is a little sparser, which is better for game viewing.

    I would recommend speaking to whatever company you’re booking a safari through for their recommendations on getting to Kruger. Many safari packages will include a free or low-priced shuttle to/from Johannesburg. If you’re going it on your own, I’d recommend driving. It’s a pleasant drive and when you factor in everything involved, you won’t save much time flying (driving from Nelspruit (MQP) to most places in/around the souther half of Kruger saves less than three hours vs. coming from JNB). In any case, Airlink has flights to several airports in the area and can even connect to some of the larger camps such as Skukuza with little prop planes.

    In addition to the airlines mentioned above, anyone flying within South Africa should look at Safair. It’s a discount airline, but we had a very pleasant experience. Best of all, they have a stellar on-time record (something like 97%), something that can’t be said for the other airlines. I sat next to a businessman from Cape Town and he said Safair is quickly gaining traction among business travelers for their reliability. Unfortunately they don’t have any destinations around Kruger (yet).

    Two other options not mentioned: Mango is another discount airline; I have no experience but I’ve heard mixed reviews. Kulula is the discount arm of Comair; I’ve heard good things and people perceive it to be well-run since it’s affiliated with British Airways.

    Finally, most everyone appears to be on the same page, but it should be made clear that South African Airways, South African Express, and SA Airlink are (technically) three separate airlines, all wholly owned by the Government of South Africa. Airways and Airlink appear to be unaffected by the shutdown of Express, but if you’re planning a trip to SA (or anywhere in southern Africa), keep your ears open. Though things have stabilized a bit since Zuma’s resignation a few months ago, the SA government is still roiling and I wouldn’t be surprised if moves are made affecting one or more of the three airlines either in the runup to or immediate aftermath of the election coming up in May 2019.

  14. @Arthur – Airlink is NOT owned by the Government.

    South African Airways owns approximately 2% stake in Airlink but that’s all. It is a private company that has a franchise agreement to operate for SAA. SA Express and SAA are the two government owned airlines.

    That said, Airlink will actually be acquiring/merging with Safair subject to approval of the competition commission (their first proposal was sent back in February with concerns to be addressed).

  15. @Sean M. You are correct, thanks for correcting my brain fart.

    I did not know that about Safair and Airlink, that’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. It was my understanding that Safair had no intention to fly routes outside of SA, but a pending merger with Airlink certainly suggests otherwise (though that’s not to say the Safair brand would remain exclusively within SA with the company operating flights elsewhere). In any case, southern Africa is ripe for a properly operated airline to take over, perhaps “Safairlink” can make it happen.

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