Procedural issues have seen the indefinite suspension of Lufthansa Technik Maintenance International's (LTMI) Aircraft Maintenance Organisations (AMO) license by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

LTMI, along with SAA Technical, is responsible for maintaining the fleet of Comair (South Africa) (MN, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo), which the regulator grounded for five days last week following a spate of safety incidents in February 2022.

SACAA Executive: Corporate Services Phindiwe Gwebu confirmed to ch-aviation on March 24 that a 24-hour suspension had been extended indefinitely overnight pending the finalisation of two outstanding issues.

A spokesman for the Lufthansa Technik subsidiary said LTMI had submitted final resolution proposals for two outstanding issues to the SACAA. "The company is now waiting for the decision of the authority if all findings are considered closed."

In a statement on March 23, the SACAA said LTMI's precautionary suspension on March 22 followed an unscheduled four-day audit of the AMO's quality control management system (QC) and safety management systems (SMS) "to establish legislative compliance related to reporting, analysis, and follow-up of occurrences, and corrective action plans to prevent recurrence". "The SACAA found that the AMO had both a quality management system and safety management system in place; however, both were not implemented as per the Civil Aviation Regulations (CARs) and the requisite manuals," it said.

The SACAA said its audit of LTMI had produced four "Level 1 findings" which posed "an immediate risk to users of civil aviation services" and had to be addressed immediately. Two of these had been satisfactorily addressed by LTMI within 24-hours, while two others could not be resolved immediately, resulting first in the 24-hour suspension of its AMO license, then extended indefinitely pending the resolution of the findings.

"Lufthansa Technik Maintenance International informed the SACAA yesterday evening that the company will take a little more time for the final and thorough settlement of the two outstanding issues and that the processing of the two outstanding findings will therefore exceed the previously set deadline of 24 hours," the Lufthansa Technik spokesman explained. "The authority has accordingly extended the suspension of the approval indefinitely until the closure of the outstanding findings. This suspension expressly applies only to LTMI activities in South Africa and does not affect any other activities of Lufthansa Technik locally." He said LTMI was in constant exchange with the regulator and set up a special quality management team to address deficiencies quickly.

He earlier told ch-aviation that the SACAA's findings were not directly related to the technical problems that led to Comair's fleet's temporary grounding. "A regular audit of LTMI by the SACAA in February did not reveal any major complaints, and LTMI's approval was renewed," he said.

"The current maintenance contract is signed between Lufthansa Technik Maintenance International (LTMI), which is a 100% subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik, and Comair," he added. "There is no link to Lufthansa and only an indirect link to Lufthansa Group as Lufthansa Technik is a 100% subsidiary of them, but Lufthansa Technik is acting completely independent in the MRO business. Therefore it is important for us to clarify that Lufthansa is not involved at all in our business relations with Comair."

Anticipating LTMI's suspension, Comair had already switched its line maintenance to SAA Technical on March 21 in order to avoid further flight disruptions.

The company, which operates the British Airways franchise in South Africa and the country's oldest budget carrier Kulula Air (MN, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) saw its air operator's certificate (AOC) suspended while the SACAA reviewed its safety procedures last week. The airline was given the all-clear and resumed operations on March 17, 2022.

Editorial Comment: Updated on March 25 with additional comment from Lufthansa Technik Maintenance International. - 25.03.2022 - 07:45 UTC