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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:

Comair British airways suspended

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, 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. [….]

Comair British Airways flights suspended

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 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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Comments (22)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Andy N-Wynne says:

    Another disaster from “BA” for our journey! Manchester to LHR was cancelled on 27.2.22 and we had to get the train to LHR to connect to Virgin! Managed our Comair from JNB to CPT however. Now we find Comair suspended. No word from them yet and due to travel on 25.3.22 in reverse. Hope we make our Virgin flights home!!

  • Catalan says:

    Good that the SACAA have done this. Better to be safe than sorry.

  • TGreen says:

    The cynic in me, would see this as the Govt authority making space in the market for SAA to return bigger than it is currently. Both Govt owned entities and if anything was shown from the original collapse of SAA corruption is pretty rife.
    Lift has also joined the JNB-CPT market so this opens up SAA to increase frequency on those plus all the others (PE, Durban, East London etc)

    A shame as this was reasonable use of avios such as JNB- Vic Falls where cash fares were very high, even if remeption was without RFS.

    • Ben says:

      This was the first thing that came to mind when I heard.

      I thought Comair was fantastic (mainly due to lounge access due to BA status)

      Would be a real shame for them to go.

    • WaynedP says:

      That’s not far from alleging that BA Comair is way overdue paying its bribe money to SACAA.

      What a shame that some unscrupulous operators in SA have given some justification to be this cynical when most are just trying to earn a decent, honest living.

      I think the language coming out of SACAA seems genuinely sincere in seeking a solution, like assembling a dedicated team to efficiently review Comair’s submission response.

      Seems reassuringly like the sort of thing you’d expect a decent first world aviation regulator to do (unless they’re also sly subscribers of Putin’s doublespeak playbook).

  • Arch says:

    Just booked 3 flights in SA for next month – luckily on Flysafair as slightly cheaper, despite paying for luggage. Phew, glad I did!

  • AJA says:

    This is a shame as Comair was great. It is several years since I last flew them between JNB and CPT. But it is right that they are suspended if there is any safety concern. The last thing anyone wants is an accident.

  • Sam says:

    I’ve used Comair a lot but their demise would not be a bad thing as far as I am concerned. You can’t use AmEx 2F1 vouchers with Comair. We are flying Qatar to Harare in April. They just started flying there having mooted the route for a long time. No 2F1 on Qatar either and the routing is currently very long (with stops in Lusaka in both directions) but I am hoping this will improve over time. Last time we flew Virgin with ComAir connection that we missed because of delayed long haul. The resulting compensation paid for a big chunk of the trip. I suspect Virgin may not sell this deal again! ComAir use the Slow lounge in JNB and that is a great place to spend a few hours!

    • JAXBA says:

      Surely it’d be better if 241s were valid on Comair, not that a good airline collapses…

      I like them, I wish they had expanded the BA operation much more, instead of the Kulula side (I’ve flown both). I hope they recover quickly.

  • Sterckxhof says:

    We are independently booked on a multi-base holiday departing LHR > CPT 22.3.22, CPT > DUR 28.3.22, DUR > JNB 30.3.22, JNB > Maun 30.3.22, Maun > JNB 3.4.22, JNB > LHR 3 4.22. It is celebration for our 50th wedding anniversary to it is quite important to get it right. Does anyone have any views on whether we should wait to see if charter flights are laid on to get to DUR and from DUR to JNB for our safari in Botswana, or if we should cancel the Comair flights, do something else instead of Durban, and book SAA direct from CPT to Maun on 30.3.22. Very grateful for any experience or knowledge that we do not have.

  • Sterckxhof says:

    I should add that we are booked in Club on BA on avios (apart from the JNB > Maun secto). Only one of the Comair flights was available on avios.

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