It could be a weekend of cancellation frustration for passengers travelling between SA and Zimbabwe, unless compliance issues are sorted out urgently.
South African Airways has confirmed that one of its flights has been grounded in Zimbabwe on Saturday morning, 19 August.
Flight SA 025 was due to depart from Harare to Johannesburg.
“We confirm that one of our aircraft has not been able to operate from Zimbabwe this morning as it awaits decision by the authorities in Zimbabwe to allow us to operate,” says SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali.
The reason for the grounding was not confirmed by Tlali as yet.
“We apologise to our passengers and customers for the inconvenience. The situation is receiving required and urgent attention. Updates will follow in the next hour.”
The SAA grounding could be “retaliation” after the South African Civil Aviation authority prevented a Harare bound Air Zimbabwe flight from taking off from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Friday evening, 18 August.
Issues of compliance – Foreign Operator’s Permit
The Air Zimbabwe plane was grounded at OR Tambo international for not having a Foreign Operator’s permit.
SA Civil Aviation spokesperson Kabelo Ledwaba confirmed to Traveller24 the Air Zimbabwe aircraft was unable to take-off due to non-compliance with South African civil aviation regulations.
As part of SACAA routine ‘ramp inspections’ on Friday evening, the Boeing 767-200 operated by Air Zimbabwe was” found to not be complaint with both international civil aviation standards, and Part 129 of the South African civil aviation regulations.”
Air Zimbabwe, which was blacklisted by the UK Aviation Authority in May this year due to safety concerns, does not have a Foreign Operator’s Permit in order to conduct operations into, and within South Africa, the SACAA found.
“A copy of the Foreign Operator’s Permit, together with other documents, must be on-board an aircraft at all times, and made available for inspection on request by the relevant authorities,” says Ledwaba
The SACAA has instructed the operator not to take off until such time that there is full compliance with the applicable South African civil aviation regulations and the requisite international aviation standards as set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
“The SACAA is fully aware of the possible inconvenience to passengers, but also wishes to emphasise that civil aviation safety and security is critical, and all licence and permit holders operating into and within the South African airspace need to comply with the applicable international standards, and South African civil aviation regulations,” says Ledwaba.
Operations that are not in line with applicable rules and standards may potentially undermine the high standards of civil aviation safety and security that South Africa is renowned for.
“This action by the SACAA is not an isolated case as the organisation has most recently taken similar action against other operators, including Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Saudi Airlines,” says Ledwaba.
Escalating SADC tension
Reports indicate, although the FOP is mandatory, “most airlines within the region operate without one, in some form of reciprocal understanding”.
SAA operates a total of nine flights daily to three destinations in Zimbabwe. SA Airlink operations may also be caught in the crossfire as “none of the SADC based countries have national airlines which meet this requirement”, but this has not been confirmed.
Robert Mugabe arrived in a similar aircraft via Waterkloof Airbase – but Mugabe’s personal airplane, operated by Air Zimbabwe, is not believed to be affected by the cancellation.
A “red-alert” has been issued by police in case Grace attempts to cross the South African border after she allegedly assaulted a 20-year-old model in a Sandton Hotel on Sunday – which is further fuelling diplomatic tensions between the two countries
Irrespective, business and leisure tourism between the two countries are sure to be affected by the compliance issues, with passengers being advised to keep in touch with their airlines and make alternative arrangements as necessary.