British Airways’ South African franchise forced to suspend flights on safety grounds
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One of the quirks of the British Airways network is that it has a franchise business in South Africa, called Comair.
I’ve flown it a couple of times in the past. It is a little strange to board a Boeing 737 in Johannesburg in British Airways livery, with crew wearing British Airways uniforms, to fly to Cape Town or somewhere else in the region.
Here is one of their aircraft so you can see what I mean:
This aircraft won’t be going anywhere for a while, however.
The South African Civil Aviation Authority has suspended Comair’s Air Operator Certificate. The suspension also covers Kulula.com, a low cost subsidiary under the same ownership but with no link to British Airways.
The suspension was driven by recent ‘safety incidents’ at Comair. To quote from the CAA’s press release:
“Just in the past month, Comair operations experienced occurrences ranging from engine failures, engine malfunction and landing gear malfunctions, amongst others.”
An initial 24-hour suspension, due to end yesterday, has now been extended indefinitely after the airline was not able to assuage the concerns of the regulator.
In a follow-up statement on Sunday, the regulator said:
“Following the 24hour precautionary suspension of Comair PTY Ltd.’s Air Operator Certificate (AOC) privileges on Saturday morning 12 March 2022, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) confirms that the AOC is now indefinitely suspended pending the Operator addressing all the findings as communicated by the Regulator on Saturday morning. [….]
The suspension follows the visit by the SACAA to the Operator to investigate and determine the cause of a spate of occurrences affecting a concerning number of flights operated by Kulula.com and BA Comair. [….]
This resulted in the Regulator raising three (3) level 1 findings, and one (1) level 2 finding. In terms of the oversight philosophy of the Regulator, a level 1 finding is an outcome which poses an immediate risk to safety and security, and it must be closed with immediate effect and a level 2 finding must be closed within 7 days. [….]
The SACAA is fully committed to ensuring that the Operator is back in the air and has dedicated a full team to assess and review the evidence as it gets submitted.”
Comair was reborn from de facto bankruptcy during the pandemic. It is possible, although hopefully unlikely, that a lack of liquidity in the business has led to short cuts being taken over safety and maintenance.
It isn’t clear at present how long this suspension will last. If you have any Comair flights planned for the next week or so then you may be in trouble although I imagine that the issues will be addressed quickly. Reuters reported that charter flights were being used to rebook selected passengers, including those with long-haul connections.
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