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Passengers stranded as Kulula.com and British Airways flights are indefinitely suspended

Comair's Kulula and BA flights have been suspended with immediate effect after a spate of serious occurrences on its flights.
Comair's Kulula and BA flights have been suspended with immediate effect after a spate of serious occurrences on its flights.
Image: SUNDAY TIMES

The SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) on Sunday said it had indefinitely suspended Comair's air operator certificate (AOC) — effectively grounding Kulula.com and British Airways.

Thousands of passengers were left stranded and irate after the aviation regulator issued a 24-hour precautionary suspension of Comair’s air operator certificate on Saturday morning. The move comes after a series of serious incidents involving aircraft.

The SACAA said the suspension would remain effective pending the operator addressing issues it had flagged.

A Kulula flight was forced last week to divert to Johannesburg's OR Tambo International airport from nearby Lanseria after an “engine-related” issue. This was the second such issue in three weeks on the same route. 

The SACAA said it recognised efforts by Comair to address the issues which had been raised as speedily as possible and in this regard the operator had started responding to the regulator from Saturday evening.

“The inspectorate team worked through the night to review the evidence received and as at 6:30am on [Sunday] the regulator accepted the corrective action and evidence submitted in respect of one level 1 finding. 

“This therefore means this finding is now closed. The review of the rest of the evidence of which the latest was received around 7:30am [Sunday] morning, will continue to be assessed and reviewed by the inspectorate this morning.” 

Comair can appeal against the suspension.

The suspension came after the SACAA visited Comair to determine the cause of a spate of occurrences affecting a number of Kulula.com and British Airways flights. 

“The SACAA sought to confirm Comair’s compliance with applicable civil aviation regulations (CARs). The inspection was also aimed at reviewing Comair’s quality control management system (QC) and safety management systems (SMS) to establish compliance related to reporting, analysis and follow-up on occurrences, and corrective action plans to prevent recurrence.

“This resulted in the regulator raising three level 1 findings, and one level 2 finding.”

In terms of the oversight philosophy of SACAA, a level 1 finding is an outcome which poses an immediate risk to safety and security, and it must be closed with immediate effect.

A level 2 finding must be closed within seven days.

The SACAA said it was fully committed to ensuring that Comair was back in the air and had dedicated a full team to assess and review the evidence as it gets submitted. 

“The commitment to safety in this case supersedes any other need and this is to ensure that SA maintains its safety record of having zero fatal airline accidents in over thirty years on SA soil. 

“The lives of our aviation personnel and the users of civil aviation services is paramount, and it is a responsibility the regulator does not take lightly,” said the SACAA.

SA is periodically subjected to independent international audits by bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation to measure the country's compliance to the standards and recommended practices of the UN body. 

“In this regard, SA was last audited by ICAO in 2018 in terms of the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme — Continuous Monitoring Approach and the country improved its compliance levels in that audit.

“Continuous improvement is a principle which the regulator will work hard at elevating as it ensures that aviation remains the safest mode of transport in this country,” the entity said.

TimesLIVE


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