CemAir has welcomed a ruling overturning the SA Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) decision to ground the airline, but it’s not able to resume operations just yet.
CemAir said on Monday its air operating certificate had expired during the nearly four-month duration of the appeal process and it was working with the CAA on the renewal of its operating certificate.
The Civil Aviation Appeal Committee (CAAC) ruled that the grounding of the airline’s entire fleet of 21 planes during the December 2018 and January 2019 holiday season was irrational and factually wrong.
The airline was grounded after it reportedly contravened the Civil Aviation Act and five CAA regulations. The authority argued at the time that noncompliance by the airline posed a serious and immediate threat to safety.
The Appeal Committee’s 82-page judgment described the CAA’s decision as containing “material errors” rendering it “irrational, arbitrary, unreasonable and procedurally unfair”.
The decision to ground the entire fleet and suspend the operating certificate is described as “grossly unfair administrative conduct both procedurally and substantively… This entire approach adopted by the SACAA to suspend the Appellant’s (CemAir) AOC… was legally and factually wrong”.
“In the absence of any substantive safety findings against CemAir we can only wonder what the real motivation is for the grounding,” CemAir said.
The airline said the decision to ground its fleet inconvenienced tens of thousands of travellers and had resulted in job losses.
“In addition, the cost to the SA economy from the lost flights to transport tourists over the busy year-end, and in the loss of air connectivity to support the economies of regional towns, is inestimably large.”
CemAir stressed that the judgment, which it described as a landslide victory, completely vindicated the company and “is a clear and unequivocal confirmation that no valid safety concerns exists or existed at the airline”.
The CAA claimed it had records that showed CemAir had been operating some of its aircraft outside of permissible loading limits, which meant the weights of passengers and baggage declared by the flight crew were not the same as those recorded by CemAir’s service provider.
However, the April 29 CAAC’s judgment went so far as to name certain CAA inspectors and officials on overturning their decisions, stating that the action “is strongly suggestive of a closed mind and thus actual bias”.
CemAir said: “We are amazed that the CAA staff concerned have not been suspended and investigated. Inspectors acting beyond the regulations pose a safety and commercial risk to this key industry and the CAA’s approach to the matter fails to recognize the seriousness of the issue.
“We take this opportunity to apologise to all our customers who have been inconvenienced by the suspension of our service. We also apologise to customers affected by the slower than expected refund process.
“Unfortunately, every refund claim has to be thoroughly investigated as some have been found to be fake claims and others have already been refunded through partner channels.
“CemAir remains a committed aviation partner and we look forward to emerging from this difficult time as a stronger organisation.”