South Africa grounds domestic flights over safety concern

South Africa’s domestic airline sector is being thrown into disarray with the indefinite grounding of Comair and Kulula airlines over safety issues.

Showing a BA liveried comair aircraft and a Kulula aircraft

Comair's BA liveried 737 and the bright Kulula low cost carrier are grounded over safety issues (Image SACAA)

The move also affects British Airways feeder flights as Comair operates under licence to fly BA passengers in Southern Africa. The two airlines are said to operate up to 40% of the country’s internal flights.

The regulator, South Africa Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), said today it is extending the grounding of Comair following failure or the airline to explain a series of technical and safety failures which led to a precautionary suspension on Saturday.

The airline which operates under the British Airways flag in South Africa under licence was unable “to demonstrate to the regulator that the risk and safety management systems are effective in managing potential hazards," according to SACAA.

The flight ban also affects low lost carrier Kulula, according to the transport ministry.

"The regulator took this decision independently, in line with its mandate to oversee aviation safety," Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said in a statement reported by Reuters.

SACAA said in the past month Comair had experienced safety problems ranging from "engine failures, engine malfunction and landing gear malfunctions, amongst others".

Comair is understood to have delivered paperwork regarding its safety management system but these have bot been processed by the authorities.

The sudden suspension has affected thousands of passengers, angry at the short notice.

But SACAA said the company had been given several opportunities to prove how they had addressed safety concerns and risks.  CAA spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu said they still could not be cleared for safe flying.

"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.

There would be considerable implications for the aviation sector and the country should the suspension be prolonged, he added.

BA and Comair arranged some charter flights to move stranded passengers, but it remains unknown for how long it will take to resolve the issues.


Alan Peaford

Alan Peaford MBE

Alan is a regular broadcaster and is the consultant editor-in-chief and presenter for Times Aerospace TV and is a regular commentator on aviation issues for many global broadcasting channels. He is conference chairman of the Aviation Africa summit and the Aviation MENA summit and has moderated or chaired conferences for organisations such as IATA, DCAA, the Global Aerospace Summit and business aviation associations in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.