By Victor Shalton
South Africa’s Aviation Authority Grounds Comair’s Flight Operations Indefinitely
Comair Limited — a British Airways franchisee — which also operates Kulula Airlines in South Africa had its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) suspended indefinitely. The carrier failed to adequately demonstrate to the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) that its risk and safety management systems are up to scratch.
What was supposed to be a 24-hour grounding of all Comair planes over safety issues was recently extended indefinitely — following the airline failing to address findings communicated to it by the regulator. In 30 years, South Africa has not seen a single fatal commercial airline incident and hopes to keep it that way.
According to the country’s Civil Aviation Authority and its spokesperson, Phindiwe Gwebu, it was their job to maintain the best safety interests of both passengers and airline staff.
Prior to the civil aviation investigation and report into Comair’s safety shortfall last week, several safety incidents had been reported. SACAA’s visit to Comair sought to investigate and determine the cause of a spate of occurrences affecting “a concerning number of flights operated by Kulula and British Airways Comair”.
“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,” the Civil Aviation Authority said.
The regulator raised three Level 1 findings, and one Level 2 finding, which according to regulatory standards, posed an immediate risk and called for operations to be shut down. This includes engine failures, flights being forced to reroute due to technical faults and others facing emergency landings after a malfunction with their landing gear.
While the regulator insists that it doesn’t issue such orders lightly, it also noted that it is committed to returning Comair planes to full service as soon as possible.
However, the commitment to safety in this case “supersedes any other need and this is to ensure that South Africa maintains its safety record of having zero fatal airline accidents in over thirty years on South African 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.”
Meanwhile, Comair’s majority trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said that they were not surprised at the decision to halt Comair flights.
“We are deeply concerned about workers and the safety of the public at large given these very serious occurrences,” Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said. “We are not surprised at these unfortunate developments as we have been warning the airline from within, of the dangers of their cost cutting measures and that this would eventually have the impact of compromising safety standards, by not giving their aircraft enough ground time for proper maintenance.”
The Workers Union has called for the company’s CEO, Glenn Orsmond, to step down immediately.
“We demand that Comair focus on running the company and implementing a clear turnaround strategy. They must stop cutting salaries and benefits of the lowest paid workers in the company as this has clearly proven not be a solution. The CEO Glenn Orsmond does not have a vision to turn the organisation around and this is contributing to the crisis,” Hlubi-Majola added.