Embattled domestic lowcost airline Skywise has been subpoenaed to appear before the Air Services Licensing Council (ASC) on December 9, for alleged non-compliance with its Air Services Licence conditions. If an airline fails to comply with its licence conditions, the council has the authority to suspend the licence for up to two years, or cancel it.
The council says it decided at its meeting on October 14 to request an official report from Skywise about the cancellation of its services as reported in the media the previous day.
This is a reference to reports in Business and in other media that Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS) and the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) grounded the airline at different occasions, due to outstanding payments. The council said it has since decided to subpoena Skywise to its next meeting.
Business understands the council issued the subpoena after further reports of frequent flight cancellations and the withdrawal of Skywise’s plane by a lessor last week, also due to non-payment. The airline has subsequently leased another aircraft and resumed operations.
Skywise, which started operating in February this year, announced a revised flight schedule on October 20, of six daily flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town – down from eight. This took effect immediately and affected passengers were given the option to change their flights or get refunds “within 21 days”.
Several airline insiders have told Business Skywise is most probably cancelling flights when it has too few bookings. Skywise co-chair and acting CEO Tabassum Qadir said on November 10: “Skywise is operating according to its current schedule of six daily flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town.”
When Business pointed out the Acsa website showed only one Skywise flight, she said: “There are six flights a day, except Tuesdays, when there are always only two flights because that is scheduled maintenance day.” Business has monitored the live flight information over the past few days. It showed four Skywise flights on Monday.
The first three were delayed by 40 minutes, 1 hour 9 minutes and 1 hour 17 minutes respectively and the fourth was cancelled. On Tuesday it showed two flights and on Wednesday four flights. Said Qadir: “In terms of your allegations about load factors, that is not true. “If we do experience technical challenges with our aircraft, we do what we can to assist affected passengers.”
She would not disclose the amount of outstanding refunds. With regard to the subpoena, she said: “We have received a meeting request from the ASC and will be meeting with them to discuss recent, now resolved, issues, which led to the cancellation of flights in October.”