• Sources at SA Express say the airline is using parts from grounded planes to keep other planes in use. 
  • The airline says its planes remain safe to use, financial troubles notwithstanding.
  • All SA Express planes were grounded by an airport operator on Wednesday due to outstanding payments. 
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Engineers at state-owned airline SA Express have been using parts of grounded aeroplanes to repair a handful still in active use, sources at the company says.

SA Express planes were grounded on Wednesday due to outstanding payments to the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa).

The company this week admitted it has had to tighten its belt in paying for spare parts, but maintained its planes are safe to use.

However, two separate sources this week painted a worrying picture of deteriorating standards and processes as the company's financial troubles deepen. 

“We’ve started using parts from grounded planes to repair flying planes,” a senior source within the maintenance department said. “When a door is broken we just take parts from grounded planes.” 

Cannibalising planes in such a fashion is common in aviation – when there is not enough money to keep every plane flying.

The airline confirmed to Business Insider SA that it is currently only able to use five of the 11 aircraft in its fleet.

“The big issues is that the parts are not replenished in planes from which they are taken from,” the source said. 

Meanwhile the airline's Safety Management System was in “a mess and still is”, according to different source.

The system is intended to provide a set of checks and monitors to ensure safety on aeroplanes. 

Safety is not a concern, SA Express says, though money is tight.

SA Express did not directly answer questions on the cannibalisation of planes, saying only that the part it uses are approved.

But the “limited suppliers and financial resources have put a strain on the operation," SA Express spokesperson Mpho Majatladi told Business Insider.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority previously grounded SA Express planes in May 2018 after it revoked the airline's safety certificates.

But Majatladi said SA Express planes are safe, and its management system is up to scratch.

“[Our] aircraft continue to be operated in a safe manner and this has been proven by the recent South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) and International Air Transport Association IOSA audit where the airline’s safety management programme was declared in compliance,” Matatladi told Business Insider South Africa. 

See also: Bruce Whitfield | SAA must be allowed to die

Acsa on Thursday said SA Express aeroplanes will remain grounded until the company pays outstanding passenger service charges, landing and parking fees.

Business Day reported that SA Express – which received an R1.2 billion state bailout in 2018 – was denied a R200 million guarantee in August by finance minister Tito Mboweni. 

Instead, Mboweni would reportedly like to see SA Express incorporated into South African Airways (SAA), and privatised.

The National Treasury referred all enquiries about SA Express to the the department of public enterprises. The department of public enterprises and SACAA did not respond to questions. 

Most SA Express employees – who have been left in the dark since the grounding of aircraft – have been home since Wednesday awaiting a solution to the impasse with Acsa. 

It is understood that the airline called for an urgent meeting with all staff on Friday morning to discuss the situation. 

UPDATE: AIRPORTS COMPANY SOUTH AFRICA LIFTS SUSPENSION OF SA EXPRESS

Airports Company South Africa has lifted the suspension of SA Express airline. 

SA Express has now made a partial payment towards settling its debt to Airports Company South Africa with the balance expected on Monday.

See also: Comair loses its patience with SAA, moves maintenance overseas