'We want to avoid mistakes made in the past' - SA Express acting CEO

The biggest issues SA Express could not get away from were its liquidity and going concern status, acting CEO Matsietsi Mokholo said in a video statement released on Thursday.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) grounded the state-owned airline a week ago and indicated to Fin24 that it could be months before it could get off the ground again.

SACAA suspended its operator's certificate well as its aircraft maintenance organisation approvals. SACAA has also suspended the certificates of airworthiness for nine of the 21 aircraft operated by the airline. The regulator cited non-compliance in relation to 17 specific findings, but did not disclose full details of its audits.  

The airline falls under the Department of Public Enterprises as shareholder and Mokholo said it was made clear to her that a process needs to be followed in government for it to obtain more funding.

The airline had already determined that seven of its 22 aircraft were unsafe to fly, two of which were determined to be beyond repair.

"We realised that we would need aircraft always available, but also reliable, so that we can be on time and win back customers we lost. That was our plan," said Mokholo.

Recently one of the airline's planes had to turn back due to engine failure on its way from East London to Johannesburg. According to Mokholo, it was determined not to have been a maintenance issue but equipment failure.

Gordhan's assistance not a sign of lack of confidence

She said Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan felt he had to assist her in dealing with the challenges the airline is facing, and put together a senior team  for this purpose.

"This should not be misinterpreted. The minister is strengthening the team. It does not mean a lack of confidence in our organisation. Our shareholder is supporting us across the organisation, (especially since) our exco is depleted and vacancies need to be filled," she said.

According to Mokholo, SA Express will require "a bit of time" to implement its "correcting plan".

She said SACAA's decision to ground the airline sent shock waves through the entire organisation, and the help of South African Airways (SAA) had to be obtained since SA Express was not allowed to even trade any more.  

According to Mokholo, five of the 17 findings against the airline are serious. Of the five, four are matters she regards as in the airline's control, which will be focused on.

"We started addressing the root causes and want to avoid mistakes made in the past... We want to make a paradigm shift this time. We want to work with the regulator and already had training for all senior management regarding safety management. People were paying attention and raising hazards never before raised," said Mokholo.

"So, the grounding is bad news for me, but also an opportunity to reflect and look at what we took for granted and not repeat the blind spots we had, or the mistakes. We are going to come back. We do want to come back."

Although the airline has lost passengers, she believes the corrective plans will help in turning it around.

"Part of our plan must be embedding safety management systems and having alerts in place. So, our message to our stakeholders both local and abroad as well as our passengers is that we want to say accept our apology," said Mokholo.

"We are still committed to be an airline that has a history of safety and an airline that takes passenger interest at the top. We are committed that, when we come back, we will not have another grounding."

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