One of the reasons that SA's civil aviation authority conducted a safety audit at SAA Technical was remarks made by an official at at the national airline that the loss and theft of aircraft parts may be caused by an organised crime syndicate, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has said.
The transport minister on Tuesday briefed media following the precautionary grounding of SAA and Comair aircraft.
Traveller24 earlier reported that SAA and Comair were issued with a prohibition order by the South African Civil Aviation Authority after it conducted an audit of a sample aircraft. According to SACAA, the operators then took "precautionary measures" to self-ground aircraft to "enable them to conduct verification that their aircraft are safe to fly".
SAA Technical, a subsidiary of SAA, maintains the aircraft of various carriers - including SAA and Comair.
SACAA is an entity which falls within the oversight of the Department of Transport. No details were given by the SAA Technical or aviation authority about what was inspected. But Mbalula said the grounding was a precautionary measure taken by airlines to ensure the safety of passengers.
"Airlines owe duty to customers make sure aircraft in service meet safety standards," he said. But he would not elaborate on any potential irregularities – that is, whether there are any faulty parts on planes.
Advocate Vusi Pikoli, SAA's chief risk and compliance officer, previously told Parliament's portfolio committee on public enterprises that forensic investigations at the airline found there may be an organised crime syndicate involved in the theft and loss of aircraft parts.
When asked if SACAA's audit of SAA Technical had anything to do with Pikoli's remarks, Mbalula said Pikoli's "utterances" indeed "necessitated speedy action on the matter".
Not a total shutdown
Mbalula said the grounding of the aircraft was not a "total shutdown". Airlines are expected to operate as normal "by the end of the week".
"We are pleased that SAA Technical has submitted a corrective action plan to address irregularities. The corrective action plan is found to be acceptable by SACAA," Mbalula said.
He added that Airports Company South Africa was working with airlines to minimise the impact on passengers.
Mbalula could not say what the cost of the delays have been on the economy. "We cannot make of the cost at the present moment as the operators will assist in the relation to that," he said.