PLETTENBERG BAY NEWS - Despite winning its appeal against the SA Civil Aviation Authority's (SACAA) decision to ground its fleet, airline operator CemAir may not yet take off pending the completion of an audit.
The authority announced on 11 January that it had suspended the airline's air operator certificates (AOC) following concerns over maintenance controls. This came after the SACAA announced, just before the festive season, that CemAir – which has regular flights between Plettenberg Bay and other city centres – was no longer able to operate as an airline or air operator or fly any of its 21 aircraft.
Loading limits issues
One of the reasons was that audit findings showed CemAir had been operating some aircraft outside of permissible loading limits, including weight and balance.
This decision was however challenged by CemAir through an urgent court application, which was successful and the airline was allowed to continue operations.
The January suspension was also challenged but the Johannesburg High Court dismissed the matter with costs on 24 January.
Following this, CemAir took the matter to the civil aviation appeals committee, which found in their favour on 29 April.
The SACAA in the meantime responded saying that despite the ruling, CemAir is still not allowed to operate pending the renewal audit process being finalised and the operator being issued with the relevant operating certificates or approvals.
'In the interest of safety'
"It is in the interest of aviation development and safety to have this matter resolved as quickly as possible," said SACAA director Poppy Khoza.
She explained that while they are keen to see the airline back in the air as soon as possible, the timeframe is dependent on various factors including cooperation by the airline.
CemAir in the meantime said the judgment by the committee comprehensively addresses the SACAA's notices which halted the operator's services in the peak December and January season, "needlessly inconveniencing tens of thousands of travellers and ultimately resulting in hundreds of job losses".
The airline said in a statement that the committee's 82-page judgement described the SACAA's decision as containing "material errors" rendering it "… irrational, arbitrary, unreasonable and procedurally unfair".
The decision to ground the entire fleet and suspend the operating certificate was described as "…grossly unfair administrative conduct both procedurally and substantively…".
'Approach was wrong'
"This entire approach adopted by the SACAA to suspend the appellant's (CemAir) AOC was legally and factually wrong," the judgement read.
The CemAir team said the victory completely vindicates the airline and is a "clear and unequivocal confirmation that no valid safety concern exists or existed at the airline".
"The hearing took place over five days allowing for in-depth consideration of hundreds of pages of evidence. After three weeks of consideration the committee found in CemAir's favour on all points," it said in a statement.
It further said that during the nearly four-month duration of the appeal, their AOC had expired through the ordinary passage of time.
"CemAir is working with the SACAA on the renewal of the AOC, however this has reached an impasse as the CAA intends to assign the same inspectors castigated for bias and incompetence in the judgement.
"In the absence of any substantive safety findings against CemAir we can only wonder what the real motivation is for the grounding," it continued. "It is of course no secret that the airline industry in South Africa has been tough for newcomers since the mid-1990s. Of the last 16 airlines to launch scheduled services only one is still flying today. It cannot be true that this bloodbath 94% failure rate is as a result of these airlines getting their business model wrong, so it is safe to assume that there is an issue with the regulatory environment."
When asked for comment, the SACAA did not respond to this speculation before going to print.
Read previous articles:
- CemAir finally spreads its wings again
- CemAir wins appeal
- Airline grounded after losing court bid
- CemAir's flights remain grounded
- CemAir grounded once again
- Court orders CemAir to take off again
- CemAir grounded a second time this year
- Passengers bear brunt of CemAir saga
'We bring you the latest Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route news'