Comair’s planes were grounded indefinitely on Sunday by South Africa’s civil aviation regulator due to safety complaints, affecting customers of Kulula and British Airways as well as Comair passengers.
Phindiwe Gwebu, a spokesperson for the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), said the suspension of Comair’s operator certificate had been extended from 24 hours to indefinitely.
The suspension was supposed to end on Sunday, but Comair has not adequately addressed all safety issues, the SACAA alleged.
SACAA took the decision independently against Comair, which has since 1996 serviced local and regional routes from South Africa under the British Airways livery as part of a license agreement, in line with its mandate to oversee aviation safety, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said in a statement on Saturday.
SACAA alleged that in the past month Comair had experienced safety problems ranging from “engine failures, engine malfunction and landing gear malfunctions, amongst others.”
“This is a precautionary suspension for a period of 24 hours, within which the operator must demonstrate to the regulator that the risk and safety management systems are effective in managing potential hazards,” the SACAA said in a statement on its website.
“The operator has until tomorrow morning, Sunday, 13 March 2022 to meet the requirements from the regulator, failing which the approval will be suspended indefinitely, pending the satisfactory closing of the findings.”
But on Sunday, SACAA spokesman said, “This morning we communicated to them (Comair) that their air operator certificate is now indefinitely suspended until they close all of the findings,” effectively grounding the company’s fleet of Boeing (BA.N) aircraft.
The airline said it could not confirm when it would start flying again, following a review of certain policies, systems, and procedures.
“This is a huge blow to our customers, employees and the flying public as it effectively takes 40% of the capacity out of the market,” Glenn Orsmond, Comair chief executive said in a statement.
“The implications for the aviation sector and the country are considerable should the suspension continue for any length of time.”
In a precautionary notice issued on Saturday, the regulator noted that Comair had experienced a variety of safety problems since last month, including “engine failures, engine malfunctions, and landing gear malfunctions,” among others.
SACAA said it found three so-called “level 1” findings “that pose an immediate threat” and must be addressed immediately.
Comair, which flies local and regional routes from South Africa under the BA livery under a licence agreement, has not specified what outstanding safety issues it must address before it can fly again. Comair also operates the Kulula brand in addition to flying BA planes.
According to a notice on Kulula’s website, Comair was seeking to resume operations by 12 noon on Sunday, pending approval by SACAA.
“We will do everything we can to accommodate customers affected by the suspension on other flights, prioritising vulnerable customers and those who most urgently needed to travel,” Comair said, adding that customers would also be kept informed via text.