UPDATE | Ops back to normal says OR Tambo after grounding of Comair and SAA planes


UPDATE: Comair and operations at OR Tambo International seem to be back to normal on Wednesday morning, but no confirmation has been receive from SAA as yet.

Mango has also issued a statement confirming it is "now fully-operational".

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says 'it's not a crisis' 

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, addressing the media at Parliament in Cape Town during a briefing on Tuesday afternoon says the flight cancellation and delay chaos at SA airports is expected to return to normal by the end of the week -  following a non-compliance issue during a South African Airways Technical (SAAT) audit that grounded some Comair and SAA planes. 

Travellers woke up on Tuesday morning to the alert that they should expect delays if they were travelling with kulula, British Airways operated by Comair, SAA and Mango, as a result of the irregularities found by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) during routine safety checks. 

READ: Reports on organised crime prompted audit of SAA technical - Mbalula  

"This is not a total shutdown, it's not a crisis, it's a normal process - airlines were not ordered to ground their planes, it was a cautionary reaction to the report," Mbalula says. 

But what Mbalula did not clarify was the actual issue centred around the "non-compliance" of SAAT, as detailed by statements issued by both the SACAA and the affected airlines. 

While the transport minister praised the SACAA's consistent "safety record and accolades from peers around the world", he seemed to cast a shadow on it by saying the regulator had "not ordered the grounding" and that it was self-imposed by the affected airlines.

REACTIONS: 'Woke up at 4am, just to get slapped with a 5-hour flight delay' - Twitter reacts to devastating flight delays 

The requirements of a "Corrective Action Plan", as requested by the SACAA, makes it clear that operations are not an option, but specific to the affected planes pinpointed in the audit. 

Referencing the grounding that has affected Comair's kulula and British Airways as well as SAA, with knock-on delays for Mango, Mbalula says, "Certain aircraft were issued with a prohibition order to address non-compliance issues. The delays were precautionary measures taken by the affected airlines." 

The SACAA said in an earlier statement the airlines are expected to provide assurance to the regulator that all aircraft released back to service "meet the regulatory requirements". 

"If any of the aircraft is deemed not to be safe to fly, then the operator is expected to correct any non-conformities and ensure that the affected aircraft are not flown before the necessary corrective measures are undertaken."

At the time of the briefing, all affected airlines had contingency plans are in place, with Comair being the only airline that has issued a statement confirming it expects to be fully operational by Wednesday.  

Affected passengers are being advised to stay in contact with their airlines for updates and schedule changes. 

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula will hold a press briefing at 16:00 today, 22 October related to the precautionary grounding of aircraft, following a safety audit conducted by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) on South African Airways Technical (SAAT).   

SACAA calls for airlines to check and correct SAAT irregularities, before grounded planes can fly again

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has issue a statement confirming it has received an "acceptable Corrective Action Plan (CAP) from South African Airways Technical (SAAT) to deal with non-compliance issues" that has seen Comair and SAA forced to self-ground some of its planes.

However SACAA has not disclosed exactly what the non-compliance issue was around, nor what the full time-frame would be for all affected airlines to get their fleet up and flying again.

REACTIONS: 'Woke up at 4am, just to get slapped with a 5-hour flight delay' - Twitter reacts to devastating flight delays

The SACAA says during its daily security oversight checks, it found a few aircraft to have "non-compliance" safety issues.

As a result SAA and Comair planes operate by kulula and British Airways have been affected by the SAAT audit. 

The regulator says it has since been in communication with the "concerned approval-holders, ie South African Airways Technical, Mango, Comair and South African Airways, who have self-grounded any aircraft that have been found to have the irregularities, as identified by the SACAA". 

"If any of the aircraft is deemed not to be safe to fly, then the operator is expected to correct any non-conformities and ensure that the affected aircraft are not flown before the necessary corrective measures are undertaken."

SACAA says the airlines are expected to provide assurance to the regulator that all aircraft released back to service "meet the regulatory requirements".

Comair has since issued a statement saying four of its affected aircraft have been released back into service, with its full fleet expected to be back in operation by Wednesday morning.  

The regulator says it is working with all affected parties, including SAAT, to address the deficiencies and the ‘self-grounded’ aircraft are deemed safe to fly.

Acsa working with affected airlines following SAAT non-compliance issues

Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) has released a statement that they are aware of the various groundings and delays.

"We are working with the affected airlines to understand their respective contingency plans and what the potential impact of the SACAA directive on airport operations."

They will provide further information as they receive, but for now urge passengers to be in contact with their respective airlines.

Comair expects to be back in service 'by Wednesday'

Comair has confirmed that four of the affected aircraft have been released back into service and they are expecting the full fleet to be back in operation by tomorrow morning.

Mango expects knock-on delays for Tuesday, no planes grounded

Mango Airlines has also been affected by the SAAT grounding, releasing a statement that there will be delays throughout the day, however their planes have not been grounded.

"Mango Airlines has activated contingency plans in order to minimise disruption during the course of today and ensure our guests reach their destinations safely. We will continue to update affected guests via SMS and will publish updated schedules on our social media platforms. If guests have any queries, please contact us via our social channels or through our call centre at 086 100 1234."

READ: Delayed at an SA airport? How to kill time while you wait 

SAA confirms four domestic flights cancelled

Safety concerns and irregularities at South African Airways Technical (SAAT) have affected both South African Airways (SAA) and Comair planes, operated by kulula and BA - with travellers warned of affected flight schedules and flight delays as a result.

SAA has issued a statement saying some of its flight will operate later than usual, with contingency measure being put in place as it has had to "recall some of its aircraft to undertake compliance verification in line with the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) requirements".

This follows the same audit inspection by the SACAA at SAA’s maintenance subsidiary, South African Airways Technical (SAAT) that has seen Comair needing to ground some of its planes.

SAA confirmed four domestic flight cancellations, saying it has combined flights and deploy bigger aircraft to accommodate affected passengers reduce the impact of the grounding. 


SAA has had to cancel four flights after a SACAA a

(Supplied: SAA)

Comair puts contingency plans in place as some planes grounded

Travellers are being warned about possible disruption to kulula and BA flights after the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) grounded some of Comair’s planes due to irregularities at South African Airways Technical (SAAT).

SACAA issued the grounding status after a recent audit of SAAT, as maintenance and technical service provider to Comair, which operates kulula and BA domestic and regional flights in South Africa.

Comair issued a statement confirming it has contingency plans in place as the “affected aircraft may not be flown until the necessary corrective action has been carried out". 

While Comair aims to minimise any disruption to its operations, it was unable to confirm the exact number of planes affected by the technical irregularities or the specific routes that face possible delays.

In the statement Comair says it will keep its customers updated and a quick scan of some of its busiest flight routes via its flight status tool did not indicate any delays or cancelled flights for today as yet. 

These are the flights affected:

  • MN504, Durban to Lanseria
  • BA6400, Cape Town to Johannesburg
  • BA6441, Johannesburg to Cape Town
  • BA6200, Durban to Johannesburg
  • BA6232, Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg
  • BA6406, Cape Town to Johannesburg
  • BA6413, Johannesburg to Cape Town
  • BA6414, Cape Town to Johannesburg

“We are working closely with SAAT to rectify the findings and getting our flights back on schedule as soon as possible.”

Travellers can check their latest flight status on the relevant websites – ba.com and kulula.com or if you have urgent enquiries can call 011 921 0222 for British Airways or 086 158 5852 for kulula.  

“We do apologise to our customers for any inconvenience to their travel plans and appreciate their support. Comair is committed to providing a safe, secure, reliable and quality airline service to its customers. The safety and security of our customers and personnel is our foremost priority and is never compromised.”

Ongoing issues with SAAT 

Comair has previously complained about its use of SAAT, blaming the service agent for its poor on-time departure records. BI previously reported that Comair would be looking to setup its own workshops in co-operation with German carrier Lufthansa as a solution. 

The company also self-grounded its Boeing 737-8 Max, following the fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash and before the entire fleet was grounded globally after Boeing admitted it needs to fix the risk associated with an autopilot system linked to two fatal crashes involving its Boeing 737 Max 8 model.  

"We maintain an IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) accreditation, ensuring the implementation of global best practice in operational safety. The company is also audited by British Airways International, the Boeing Company as well as the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA)."

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