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)