South Africa's aviation sector took a considerable knock last week following irregularities that have emerged in an South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) audit of South African Airways Technical (SAAT) But the Department of Transport maintains there is no crisis.
Five core issues - three of them series - were outlined in a media briefing on the issue. One was related to an issue where aircraft were released from maintenance by off by unqualified staff at SAAT, while the other was related to maintenance on black boxes and their voice recorders that weren't done in line with international regulations.
The other three were more administrative in nature, related to a lack of information released on aircraft and the failure to implement previous findings which were easy to rectify, according to the regulator.
READ: Comair and SAA grounding: Protocol inadequacies in SA aviation come to light as 5 core concerns in SAAT audit unpacked
News24 ran a poll asking how safe SA travellers actually feel. "Flights have been scrapped today after 'irregular findings' at South African Airways Technical. Do you feel safe travelling on SA airplanes?"
The results were as follows:
- Yes, I've never had a negative experience. 32% 5 538 votes
- No, I've experienced some scary stuff. 35% 6 054 votes
- Relatively safe, especially compared to other countries. 33% 5 828 votes
While the various votes are within a hair of each other, travellers feeling unsafe just pips the mark at 35% of the total 17 420 people who voted.
Throughout the incident, which saw widespread disruption at SA's main airports last week, Transport minister Fikile Mbalula maintained that it was not a crisis, and that it "happens more often than people think".
SEE 'Woke up at 4am, just to get slapped with a 5-hour flight delay' - Twitter reacts to devastating flight delays
"SAAT is itself an internationally rated business, but our role as the Department of Transport is to regulate and monitor," says Mbalula.
"SAAT services many airlines including those that compete with SAA and other international airlines that come to South Africa, its track record is blemish-free in this aspect and our work is to assist but verify that they continue to make South Africa proud. When SAA made the pronouncements it did about certain concerns on parts used by SAAT, as regulator, SACCA was duty-bound to act."
He also conceded that one of the reasons that SA's civil aviation authority conducted a safety audit at SAA Technical was due to remarks made by an official at the national airline that "the loss and theft of aircraft parts may be caused by an organised crime syndicate".
Fin24 reports Mbalula confirmed SAA's chief risk and compliance officer, Advocate Vusi Pikoli's comments to Parliament that forensic investigations at the airline found there may be an organised crime syndicate involved in the theft and loss of aircraft parts had played.
SANews reports The Portfolio Committee on Transport has welcomed the enforcement of regulations by both the SACAA and the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA). Acknowledging the potential of these events to cause a sense of not being safe, Committee chairperson Mosebenzi Zwane states "compliance is not an option in aviation and all risks need to be eliminated and managed".
“Transport is the backbone of our economy, and this should remain so without safety-induced panic in the airspace", emphasising that enhanced enforcement of regulatory responsibilities should be a source of comfort," says Zwane.
Similarly, Comair confirmed to Traveller24, "The safety and security of our customers and crew are our priority. Comair has a long-standing relationship with SAAT. While we have raised concerns around maintenance scheduling, which impacted fleet availability and as a consequence on-time performance and increased costs. Comair has confidence in the technical quality of the work done by SAAT."
"Comair is in the process of transitioning its line maintenance services to LTMI ZA (Lufthansa Technik Maintenance International in SA) over the next two years. This process has commenced," the Aviation company says.
No negative incident and feel relatively safe when flying SA planes
While a good portion of voters have neither had a negative experience and feel relatively safe when flying SA planes, what can be seen as a crisis is the ongoing negative impact any safety concerns have on travel and tourism - both on a domestic as well as international level.
The latest Tourism Business Index (TBI) shows confidence is waning. The TB Index released by BDO for 2019 shows the second lowest index figure in a 9-year period. This questionable protocol within the aviation sector, coupled with the "shrinking economic climate; safety and security; birth certificate and visa requirements; and water challenges are all obstacles local tourism has to overcome", only adds to the upheaval SA faces in an already competitive global tourism industry.
Christelle Grohmann, director of the tourism specialist unit at professional services firm BDO says, "Making it easier for tourists to come to SA is one thing, but at the end of the day you still need to convince them to come."
Which is why, crisis or no crisis, all of these perceptions play an important factor.
Find Your Escape by signing up for the Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe here. Or download the News24 App here, to receive expertly curated travel ideas and deals directly to your mobile