Home South African Passengers scramble after Comair’s grounding

Passengers scramble after Comair’s grounding

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Frustrated travellers left stranded as a result of Comair flights being grounded indefinitely after the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) revoked its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) privileges at the weekend, are scrambling to make alternative arrangements and expect to fork out more.

Travellers including Rene Dembo, left, and her daughter Jessica Horwirtz, were stranded after arriving at Cape Town International Airport on Saturday and discovering that all Comair flights had been cancelled. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency

FRUSTRATED travellers left stranded as a result of Comair flights being grounded indefinitely after the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) revoked its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) privileges at the weekend, are scrambling to make alternative arrangements and expect to fork out more.

This comes after SACAA had requested documentation from the flight company as a result of safety concerns.

The authority on Sunday said it suspended Comair operations due to discrepancies found in “a spate of occurrences affecting a concerning number of flights”

“The suspension follows the visit by the SACAA to the operator to investigate and determine the cause of a spate of occurrences affecting a concerning number of flights operated by Kulula.com and British Airways Comair. The SACAA sought to confirm Comair’s compliance with applicable Civil Aviation Regulations (CARs). The inspection was also aimed at reviewing Comair’s quality control management system and safety management systems to establish compliance related to reporting, analysis and follow-up on occurrences, and corrective action plans to prevent recurrence,” SACAA said.

According to the CARs, Comair can appeal the suspension decision.

Travelling back to George from Zanzibar, René Schieritz said she had witnessed the fiasco at OR Tambo International Airport Sunday morning after the announcement of an indefinite suspension was made.

Schieritz said she had received an SMS advising of a delay, but no further details or reason why her flight was postponed.

“Occasionally, I book my own connecting flights via Kulula, because I am able to take advantage of a discount. I was not aware of the reason for the delay. I went to the airport, with no idea that there had been a suspension. Luckily, I chose to enquire at the helpdesk if a rebooking was needed; they informed me to wait before checking in, as they weren’t certain yet if they could proceed. I checked the news and got up to speed.

“I was shocked at the lack of communication by both airlines. I see that Kulula is assisting stranded passengers, but this is too little too late.”

Annemi Swanepoel said her partner was expected in Cape Town on Saturday.

“I’ve phoned kulula’s contact centre three times, every time holding for almost 20 minutes with no answer.

“He is still waiting for a reply from them regarding the rebooking of his flight, so he had to make a booking with a different airline now, so it is double money that has been spent,” said Swanepoel.

Comair chief executive Glenn Orsmond said after they were issued with a 24-hour suspension notice on Saturday, they worked “through the night to provide documentation” and had hoped to resume flights at midday Sunday.

“Comair is unable to confirm when it will start flying again as the SACAA has indefinitely suspended its operating licence until such time as the SACAA has had time to review and satisfy themselves that the items are closed. We have since received an acknowledgement that the information has been received, but no other formal communication has been received to date.

“This is a huge blow to our customers, employees and the flying public as it effectively takes 40% of the capacity out of the market. The implications for the aviation sector and the country are considerable should the suspension continue for any length of time,” said Orsmond.

He added the airline was continuing to engage the SACAA and that customers would be kept informed via SMS.

Operations management for Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), Terence Delomoney said: “As Acsa we have been working with the affected airline to assist stranded passengers. Staff have been deployed to redirect passengers to airline counters or online, SMS and telephone platforms. Our best advice to passengers is to make contact with the airline before making your way to the airport.

“Some of the stranded passengers are being accommodated on additional chartered flights…specifically for passengers travelling between Johannesburg and Cape Town (yesterday)… Priority is also given to passengers who have onward international connecting flights,” said Delomoney.

Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, deputy dean of research at the University of Zululand’s economics department said Covid-19 was no longer an issue for gatherings and it was most unfortunate that Comair flights had been grounded, which would cause huge flight delays.

“This comes at a bad time as South African Airways (SAA) is only now beginning to take off. This will affect businesses as they are reliant on Comair flights. Business will have to revert to other forms of transport such as roads. The sooner this is resolved the better for the economy.”

Professor Bonke Dumisa, an independent economic analyst, said it was very unfortunate that while SAA was still trying to take off, two of the biggest airlines, Kulula and British Airways, had been suspended.

“It means something very serious as we don’t have enough flights for customer needs.”

Dumisa said this was concerning as Comair was picking up a lot of SAA’s backlog flights.

“We hope that SACAA is able to resolve the situation with Comair as soon as possible and Comair can return to normal flights.”

Cape Times

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