South African regional airline SA Express was forced to stop operations May 24 after the Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) suspended its air operator's certificate (AOC), citing safety concerns.

SA Express’ aircraft maintenance organization approvals and certificate of airworthiness for nine of its 21 aircraft were also suspended.

SA Express will have to reapply and be issued with relevant approvals for its AOC, aircraft maintenance organization and certificates of airworthiness for the grounded aircraft.

SA Express’ fleet consists of 10 Bombardier CRJ200s, four CRJ700s and 10 Q400 turboprops, according to its website.

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

SACAA did not provide details of its audit findings, but did say there were 17 areas of concern, of which five were categorized as level 1, described as “severe non-compliance or non-conformance that poses a very serious safety or security risk to the public.”

“As the custodian of aviation safety and security in the country, the SACAA cannot turn a blind eye to any operation where there is overwhelming evidence that safety measures are compromised, because that automatically poses serious danger for the crew, passengers, and the public at large,” SACAA civil aviation director Poppy Khoza said, adding it was “important to maintain South Africa’s impeccable zero percent accident fatality record in the airline and scheduled operations sector, which has been standing for many years.”

SA Express began operations in April 1994 and is part of the South African Airways alliance.

It operates to 12 South African destinations and four regional destinations in Namibia, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"We regret the inconvenience this frustrating situation has caused our passengers. We assure you that we are doing everything in our power to resolve the situation urgently,” SA Express acting CEO Matsietsi Mokholo said in a statement.

Passengers have been re-booked with other carriers.

Kurt Hofmann, hofmann.aviation@netway.at