Both Comair (South Africa) (MN, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) and South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) were forced to ground select aircraft in their respective fleets on Tuesday, October 22, following a South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) decision to condemn MRO specialist and SAA subsidiary SAA Technical.

In a statement, SACAA said it had taken the measure following a recent audit of SAA Technical. During the inspection, several aircraft operated by Comair and SAA, that were serviced by the MRO firm, were found to be non-compliant with SACAA regulations.

"During the audit, the SACAA sampled a few aircraft, which were subsequently issued with a prohibition order, meaning these aircraft could not operate until such time they had addressed the non-compliances," it said. "South African Airways Technical has since submitted a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) to the SACAA aimed at addressing the irregularities. The Corrective Action Plan was found to be acceptable by the SACAA."

According to Comair, fourteen out of its twenty-six B737s, including some operated by its Kulula Air (MN, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) low-cost brand, were grounded pending the necessary corrective action being taken. Over the course of Tuesday, October 22, affected aircraft were gradually inspected and returned to service. The airline expects its fleet to be fully operational by Wednesday, 23 October.

Given the endless problems it has endured as a result of maintenance bottlenecks at SAA Technical, Comair has already announced plans to establish its own AMO at Johannesburg O.R. Tambo for which Lufthansa Technik Maintenance International (LHT) will provide its engineering, planning, line maintenance and component support needs, including consumables and expendables supply. The shift from SAA Technical to LHT will take place during the 2020 and 2021 financial years. Thus far, Comair says it has secured six slots for ten of its aircraft which require C-checks during 2020.

For its part, SAA did not specify how many aircraft in both its and its Mango Airlines (JE, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) subsidiary's fleet had been affected. Rather, it did confirm that four domestic flights had to be cancelled as a result of a lack of capacity.

On October 10, SAA was forced to issue a statement denying a report in The Sunday Times which claimed that a sudden nosedive by a Mango B737-800 was due to a malfunction caused by a defective part fitted by SAA Technical.

Airline sources then told the newspaper that SAA and SAA Technical had been infiltrated by an international crime syndicate that had looted hundreds of millions of rands through questionable tenders which include the supply of “possibly suspect” parts.

It added that a massive investigation involving international law enforcement and aviation regulatory authorities was underway into a sophisticated syndicate which includes senior SAA procurement executives.

"SAA strongly refutes claims in the media that the airline admitted to possibly having been supplied with 'suspect parts' or components," SAA said. "Whilst any acts of criminality cannot be ruled out, it is untrue that there is a known international crime syndicate that has infiltrated SAA or SAAT that is responsible for tender manipulation and/or corruption at SAA or SAAT. There is no link, direct or indirect between the aircraft incident involving the Mango flight reported on and matters that are currently under investigation at SAAT."