FIFI PETERS: The weekend news from the aviation sector [was that] that Comair had its planes grounded. I actually happen to be in Cape Town, and I know of people who were affected by the decision that the flights that they were booked on in terms of British Airways and Kulula had been abruptly cancelled.
But for a better understanding of the story and why the Civil Aviation Authority took this decision, we are joined by Luvuyo Silandela, the senior manager for legal aviation and compliance at the Civil Aviation Authority. Luvuyo, thanks so much for your time. Can you just explain to our listeners briefly what the concerns were, the major concerns that led to the grounding of Comair’s flights at the weekend?
LUVUYO SILANDELA: Certainly. The concerns essentially revolve around three items that have to do with the safety-management systems that should be in place at every operator. So the concerns emanate from at least three significant occurrences wherein flights that were intended to depart and land safely in their respective destinations could not reach those destinations due to one or the other fault, requiring a diversion of those flights for safe landing.
The findings are essentially three. They relate to the ability of Comair to demonstrate proper assessment and application of a risk-based approach, essentially in terms of assessing. These are the risks that are implicit in our operation, and this is how we mitigate them. This also entails looking into these occurrences so that they can determine what could have led to this and what mitigation measures would be taken. So the findings relate to that area of their operation.
FIFI PETERS: I’m told that Comair has around 26 planes, or a fleet of 26. Is it that you were concerned about the entire fleet here, or just a few planes?
LUVUYO SILANDELA: Substantially the findings do not relate to specific aircraft. There’ll be one finding that touches on two aircraft. Of more importance would be the licence that they have to operate, which is referred to as an ‘operating certificate’. It requires that there are certain prescribed minimum processes that should be in place. Thereafter the safety-management system is one of those. So the findings relate to their operating system as opposed to specific aircraft. With the lack of verification of proper application of [a] safety-management system, this has a spill-on effect on their operations, which essentially affects all aircraft.
FIFI PETERS: I’m also told that Comair’s fleet is serviced by SAA Technical. Is this the case?
LUVUYO SILANDELA: SAA Technical is one of the aircraft maintenance organisations that Comair has used. I should indicate that the findings relate to the operational side of the work activities carried out by Comair, essentially how they exercise their privileges of an AOC [Air Operator Certificate]?
FIFI PETERS: An AOC, sir, what’s that?
LUVUYO SILANDELA: It’s so essentially the licence I referred to, to operate as an airline, which is an Air Operating Certificate.
FIFI PETERS: Okay. Essentially what you’re saying is that there isn’t any concern from the regulator about any of the other planes or fleets that are serviced by SAA Technical, then. It’s just with Comair, just with [regard] to operational matters.
LUVUYO SILANDELA: Indeed. This process relates to occurrences that relate to Comair specifically. They’ve had three serious occurrences that warranted the regulator to essentially look into the operation, to determine if they said they have the necessary systems in place to address and mitigate the risks that have essentially come out.
FIFI PETERS: So what does Comair need to do to get its planes back in the sky?
LUVUYO SILANDELA: Right. There is an ongoing process to present evidence that would satisfy the regulator that the findings that have been made have been addressed. That is still ongoing, and it is essentially based on what is assessed and whether it meets the minimum requirements. As an airline there are certain procedures that are in place that say ‘this is how we will conduct our operations, particularly in giving effect to the system of safety management’.
Now we require that evidence to say this is how it has been demonstrated. I’ve alluded to the three serious incidents as an example. We need to get a snapshot. What was the assessment done in relation to this? What are the measures that have been implemented to ensure that we do not have a repeat or a much [graver] occurrence taking place?
FIFI PETERS: I’m also told that back in 2018 the authority grounded CemAir for around nine months, and SA Express was also grounded for around three months. So how long can we then expect Comair to be suspended for?
LUVUYO SILANDELA: All right. Essentially each and every action that is taken has its own merit. It is determined solely by what the issues are that have been determined, and the ability of the applicable operator to address the aspects that have been determined. So essentially as an operator you have to demonstrate your capability to meet the requirements for your licence to operate. Once that is in place, it paves the way for the continuation of safe operations.
So it is difficult to pin a period. It can happen. We’ve had these incidents in the past wherein it may be a matter of days or, in much more complex or protected circumstances, it could be a longer period.
FIFI PETERS: All right. And what then is your advice to travellers who may be on the losing end of this story, having purchased tickets from Comair and finding themselves in a very difficult spot away from home, or away from where they need to be?
LUVUYO SILANDELA: Look, we certainly recognise the plight of the travelling public that would require [to] have the peace of mind that they’re able to use air services in a manner that is timeous and in line with their requirements. We do assure the public that this step was not taken lightly. There is no perfect time or best time to implement such measures. However, we take comfort from the fact that once real safety issues are identified, we are able to step in and make sure that we address those issues in a satisfactory manner, and we do not speak of a greater disaster.
FIFI PETERS: All right. Luvuyo, thanks so much for your time and for your explanation of this matter. Luvuyo Silandela, the senior manager for legal aviation and compliance at the Civil Aviation Authority.