Comair gets technical service help from overseas despite another SAA bailout

Just prior to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni's announcement of another restructure of embattled national carrier, SAA, Comair announced that it is moving its maintenance requirements overseas.
Comair has been a profitable airline but has one of the worst on-time records with only a 67.6% on-time performance (OTP) rating - King Shaka International stats Sept 2018, of all of South Africa’s airlines. The company has laid the blame for this squarely at the feet of SAA Technical. In a bizarre twist, SAA flights reflect an OTP of 83.3%. The financial mess of the national carrier affects the entire SA Airlines industry and one of the effects of tardy maintenance routines is that passengers arrive at their destinations late.

Despite the finance minister allocating R5 billion to help SAA repay a R14.2 billion debt that is due in early 2019 - in addition to the R10 billion it got a year ago to pay off debt and fund operations – Comair has lost patience and is making alternative arrangements to improve their maintenance operations and, in turn, their on-time rating.

"Reconfiguring our state-owned companies requires us to take a hard look at how they operate. Our current challenges with state-owned companies present an opportunity to demolish the walls that exist between the private and public sectors,” Mboweni promised.

Comair strikes a deal with Lufthansa Technik

At the end of October, a statement by Comair CEO Erik Venter was released to customers and stakeholders stating that they have invested R100 million in getting maintenance help where possible from an alternative source while government promises another billion-rand bailout to SAA.

“As far as possible, Comair has moved all major maintenance requirements overseas; Comair has, with Lufthansa Technik (LHT), initiated registration of an AMO (Approved Maintenance Organisation), with the objective of moving Comair’s new aircraft deliveries directly to LHT AMO as they arrive in South Africa. Unfortunately, it takes some time to obtain all the necessary licenses from the SACAA (SA Civil Aviation Authority) and ACSA (Airports Company of SA)."

December is a profitable season for all airlines and a low on-time rating is a serious reputational risk for any airline. Comair is taking drastic measures to lift its reliance on SAA Technical, a subsidiary of the beleaguered SAA, to ensure that they improve the areas of servicing that are severely lacking, resulting in delayed flights.

The statement outlined a number of measures Comair is taking to improve its services without relying on the turnaround of SAA after yet another bailout.

Plans to increase abysmal on-time rating

“We have taken the decision to manage the delays and still get our customers to their destinations, rather than to simply cancel our flights, which would improve our on-time statistics but at the expense of our customers.”

In addition, Comair has instituted a wet-lease (hiring an aircraft, including its crew) of an Airbus A320. This will ease pressure on our aircraft availability, crew and rosters. Comair will retain the lease as long as needed.

Comair has also instituted an ad-hoc wet-lease of a Boeing B737-300. This is a smaller aircraft than the others in the Comair fleet and Comair has requested permission from British Airways to use it for the British Airways brand as well, so the aircraft can operate on lower-volume flights and routes.

Comair has cancelled all non-critical crew duties to ensure maximum crew availability for flight operations, especially where crew duties have been disrupted by delays.

"Comair’s engineering team is actively involved at SAAT from 04h00 every morning to assist in getting its aircraft on line, on time and to improve coordination with Comair’s operations department,” Venter said.

Maintenance services of Lufthansa Technik to Comair will commence in January.


Image source: