Aviation watchdog extends suspension of Lufthansa Technik's licence ', audits SAAT after Comair 'incidents'

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Comair has been in business rescue since 2020.
Comair has been in business rescue since 2020.
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  • Lufthansa Technik Maintenance International's maintenance licence has been suspended "indefinitely" in SA following an unscheduled audit by the SA Civil Aviation Authority.
  • The SACAA is also busy with an unscheduled audit of SAA Technical in relation to "incidents" which led to the grounding of kulula.com and domestic British Airways flights last week.
  • Comair, which operates these flights, was grounded by the SACAA for five days last week following these incidents.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has "indefinitely" suspended Lufthansa Technik Maintenance International's (LTMI) maintenance licence in South Africa on Wednesday evening.

This follows on a 24-hour temporary suspension, which started on Tuesday evening.

"LTMI informed the SACAA Wednesday evening that the company will take a little more time for the final and thorough settlement of the two outstanding issues and that the processing of the two outstanding findings will, therefore, exceed the previously set deadline of 24 hours," Wolfgang Reinert, head of external communications at Lufthansa Technik AG, told Fin24 on Thursday morning. 

The company will submit final resolution proposals to the SACAA later on Thursday. 

"The [SACAA] has accordingly extended the suspension of the approval indefinitely until the closure of the outstanding findings. This suspension expressly applies only to LTMI activities in South Africa and does not affect any other activities of Lufthansa Technik locally," added Reinert.

The SACAA also confirmed on Thursday that LTMI is now grounded indefinitely as it was unable to close the two outstanding findings before the expiry of 24-hours. According to SACAA, the suspension will be lifted as soon as LTMI has demonstrated "a satisfactory corrective action plan" and related evidence.

LTMI is a subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik, a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group, which also owns the airline Lufthansa. LTMI operates Lufthansa Technik's maintenance business for customers outside Germany and holds a maintenance contract with Comair.

LMTI said on Tuesday that findings made by the SACAA during the unscheduled audit were not directly related to the technical problems that led to the temporary grounding of Comair's kulula.com and domestic British Airways flights last week.

The SACAA suspended Comair flights for five days last week after what the authority termed "a series of incidents".

The SACAA confirmed on Wednesday that it is busy with an unscheduled audit of South African Airways Technical (SAAT) related to these incidents.

Comair on Monday "pre-emptively" shifted maintenance of its aircraft away from LTMI to SAAT.

Up to that point, Comair used both SAAT and LTMI to maintain its aircraft. SAAT was doing heavy maintenance, while Lufthansa Technik provided engineering services and day-to-day aircraft checks.

In mid-February, an engine-related problem forced a kulula.com flight from Lanseria to Cape Town to divert to OR Tambo International and on 21 February a British Airways flight from East London to Johannesburg had to make an emergency landing due to faulty landing gear.

On Saturday, one of Comair's British Airways flights from Gqeberha experienced landing problems at Cape Town International Airport, following an issue with its landing gear indicator. 

"Safety is the top priority for the entire Lufthansa Technik Group. LTMI is, therefore, in permanent exchange with the authorities and has set up a special quality management team to remedy the identified deficiencies sustainably and as quickly as possible," Reinert told Fin24 on Wednesday.

Comair has been in business rescue since 2020. The Comair Rescue Consortium, comprising several former Comair board members and executives, was chosen as preferred bidder. Comair has indicated that restructuring its balance sheet is ongoing, and funding is still a concern. Last year Comair sold its SLOW Lounge business to FirstRand Bank for R250 million in order to raise funds.

SACAA said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon that it found LTMI had both a quality management system and safety management system in place, but both were not implemented as per the civil aviation regulations and the requisite manuals. During the safety oversight visit LTMI's quality control management system (QC) and safety management systems were subjected to a review to establish legislative compliance related to reporting, analysis and follow-up of occurrences, and corrective action plans to prevent recurrence.

The audit resulted in four Level 1 findings raised with the AMO. A Level 1 finding poses an immediate risk to users of civil aviation services and such findings must be closed immediately. The SACAA reviewed the evidence and corrective action plans submitted by LTMI and the evidence was found to be satisfactory in relation to two of the Level 1 findings. Two remaining Level 1 findings still need to be resolved.

* This article was updated with comment by LTMI and SACAA.

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