South African Airways (SAA) confirmed late last night that it has suspended its freighter aircraft services due to non-compliance with “mandatory maintenance action”.
According to the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) SAA withdrew nine aircraft after it failed to install updates on its Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS).
SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali told Moneyweb the airline is waiting for special tooling from America. It was dispatched on Wednesday night and would arrive in South Africa in the next 24 hours.
“We have ordered the special tooling, software loader and software verification tool from the United States of America,” he said.
Moneyweb learnt about SAA’s self-imposed suspension of cargo flights after SAA Cargo notified customers in a letter on Tuesday that SAA Cargo Freighters “are not able to operate until further notice”.
According to the letter SAA Cargo would not accept any freight cargo bookings until the regulatory issue has been resolved.
It stated that freighter routes to Kenya (Nairobi), Tanzania (Dar Es Salaam), Uganda (Entebbe), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasha), Zambia (Lusaka), Zimbabwe (Harare), Malawi (Blantyre), Mozambique (Maputu), Nambia (Windhoek) and Mauritius (Port Louis) were cancelled with immediate effect.
According to the SACAA all operators were granted exemption from complying with requirements for turbo engine aircraft (with a maximum take-off mass in excess of 15 000kg or that are authorised to carry more than 30 passengers,) that they be fitted with a specified airborne collision avoidance system (ACAS). This was due to the non-availability of the necessary products or equipment.
The exemption was granted in July last year and expired on January 10 this year.
SAA applied for an extension of the exemption, but the application was “unsatisfactory” and the SACAA turned it down.
“Our understanding is that the operator, and rightfully so, elected to withdraw the affected aircraft from service. As such, this is a self-imposed withdrawal of aircraft from service, which the SACAA supports, and it demonstrates the operator’s willingness to comply with civil aviation regulations,” the SACAA told Moneyweb.
SAA on Wednesday submitted a revised application which the SACAA is reviewing urgently.
According to Tlali SAA informed its customers immediately after it became clear that it would have to withdraw the aircraft from service. “We decided to move as much of the cargo as we can on our passenger airline flights. Where necessary and feasible we have also made arrangements to move the cargo on the services of other airlines.”
He said on Tuesday and Wednesday two domestic coastal routes covering Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban as well as four regional flights were affected.
SAA does not expect substantial claims from customers as a result of the suspension. Tlali said. “We communicated with our customers and made alternative arrangements to move the cargo. We minimised the amount of cargo that has not been delivered as per promise to our customers,” he said.
It is difficult to estimate the financial loss to SAA at this stage, he said. “Having advised customers not to tender certain types of cargo to us until this matter is resolved it is not possible to know how much cargo would have been tendered, and depending on how quickly the service is restored, we may still be able to move most of the cargo that the customers have held back. We will also put [in place] additional rotations if necessary to deal with customer backlogs.”
SACAA explains what the required TCAS II version 7.1 is:
“TCAS is a family of airborne devices that function independently of the ground-based air traffic control (ATC) system, and provide collision avoidance protection for a broad spectrum of aircraft types. All TCAS systems provide various forms of collision threat alerting, and a traffic display. The difference between TCAS I and II is the alerting capability. TCAS I provides traffic advisories to assist the pilot in the visual acquisition of intruder aircraft. TCAS II provides traffic advisories and recommended escape manoeuvres, to increase separation between aircraft.”