May 24, 2018 / 12:41 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-South Africa authorities halt flights of state-run SA Express over safety

(Adds minister comments)

JOHANNESBURG, May 24 (Reuters) - South Africa’s Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) said on Thursday it had suspended all flights of state-run airline SA Express over safety concerns.

The decision comes after Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Thursday that he had appointed an “intervention team” to help at the troubled airline, which has lost several executive managers who have been suspended over graft allegations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has pledged to clean up the graft and misgovernance that critics say bedeviled the administration of his predecessor Jacob Zuma, who was forced from office in February by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

“The decision to revoke the airline’s permits comes after the SACAA conducted an audit at the airline and its maintenance organisation in the past several days, which uncovered severe cases of non-compliance that pose serious safety risks,” SACAA said in a statement.

“SA Express PTY can no longer continue to operate as an airline. In order to be able to operate, SA Express will have to re-apply and be issued with relevant approvals,” it said.

Nine of its 21 aircraft have had their certificates of airworthiness suspended, SACAA said.

Gordhan said in a statement Thursday evening that “today’s suspension of the airline is a classic example of the impact of corruption and malfeasance on the country’s national assets.” “This impact is informed by actions of the previous executive management that resulted in looting of resources without being held accountable during their tenure in the airline,” he said.

Gordhan said earlier on Thursday during a press briefing that a merger of SA Express, state-run Mango and national flagship carrier South African Airways, which also has financial difficulties, was on the table.

In a statement, SA Express confirmed the suspension and said, “the SACAA finding relates, amongst others, to the safety management processes within the airline.” It said passengers would be accommodated. (Reporting by Ed Stoddard Editing by Edmund Blair and Alexandra Hudson)

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