SA Express will never fly an aircraft that is not airworthy, interim CEO Siza Mzimela said.
The SA Express board on Wednesday briefed Parliament's Select Committee on Public Enterprises and Communication on the airline's financial challenges and the implementation of its turnaround plan.
Mzimela responded to questions from the committee on the recent grounding of aircraft. She explained that the link between financial challenges of SA Express and the safety of its aircraft is in terms of how reliable it can be in recovering from a disruption.
"All airlines experience technical problems. The difference is about how quickly they can respond. For instance, in getting a back-up aircraft or how quickly they can get a spare part," she said. "A pilot will never take off unless an aircraft is 100% safe. Yes, passengers might be disrupted due to delays, but we will not take off in an unsafe aircraft. It is never an issue of safety."
At the end of August, Airports Company SA (ACSA) grounded SA Express planes due to outstanding payments owed. The flight ban was lifted after what Mzimela described to the committee as a "slight hiccup" regarding the outstanding debt, when SA Express made payment arrangements that satisfied ACSA.
This was a different scenario from when SA Express was grounded by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in May last year, after it revoked the airline's safety certificates.
"Yes, in May last year there were warning signs. The CAA does not ground planes suddenly. A large part of the problem was that people did not do what they were supposed to do by removing aircraft," said Mzimela.
She highlighted that one of the key things done in the meantime, was to appoint permanent people in key posts where there had only been appointments in holding positions. This includes a permanent appointment of an experienced head of safety and the permanent appointment of a general manager of maintenance.
"A large portion of our challenges was about the time it took to find a solution and the working capital we need. Our biggest challenge regarding flight delays are due to a lack of liquidity," she explained. "That is why adequate liquidity is so very important."
At the same time, she said the airline realises the importance of managing the reputational damage done to its brand due to the past groundings of its aircraft. To Mzimela it is unfortunate that the perception is mostly that it was due to safety issues.
"Everyone assumes that the minute you are grounded it is about safety. So, there is a lot we still have to do to inform the public that our aircraft are safe. There is nothing to worry about," she said.
The committee was told by SA Express CFO Andre Odendaal that the latest financial results are being finalised. There is a board meeting on Friday and the hope is that the financial results for the latest financial year will be approved.
According to Mzimela, the historical financial results, which could not be submitted in the past, have also been finalised and are ready to be signed off at the next annual general meeting.