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Lesotho to come off worst in Airlink saga

Staff Reporter

MASERU — Lesotho could find itself without an international flight service should the South African government make good its threat to ground SA Airlink, whose planes have been involved in a spate of freak accidents over the past three months.
Airlink is the sole airline that flies into Lesotho with daily flights between Johannesburg and Maseru.
However, Airlink has been under the spotlight in the last three months after as many accidents one of which claimed the life of a pilot.
On Tuesday, Airlink flight SA8625 — carrying 30 passengers — overshot the runway at George Airport in South Africa, crashing through a fence and coming to an abrupt halt in a ditch.
This has prompted South Africa’s Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele to scrutinise Airlink’s fitness to remain flying.
Ndebele was on Friday handed a report on Airlink compiled by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).
A decision on the future of the airline will be made this week.
“On December 11, we received a report which forms part of the general audit carried out by SACAA on Airlink,” Ndebele said in a statement.
“On Monday (tomorrow) we will announce our decision on the matter.”
Airlink has been given the opportunity to defend its airworthiness.
“In terms of the law, we have to present the report to Airlink for the airline to provide answers and responses to the questions asked by a probe of this nature,” Ndebele said.
“These are standard questions which assist in the determination of airworthiness and operational health of an airline.
“Once we have met with the airline through our agency, the SACAA, we will then pronounce ourselves on the matter.”
Ndebele has an option to ground the airline, which will be a massive blow for domestic and regional air travellers during the festive season.
“We will always be concerned with any incident and accident which threatens the lives of our people,” he said.
“It is our responsibility to increase levels of safety in all modes including buses, taxis, rail, sea and air.”
If Airlink is banned, air travellers to and from Lesotho will be hit hard.
Since national airline Lesotho Airways was liquidated in October 1996, Airlink has been the only carrier providing flights into and out of the country.
This year Mountain Airways Company, a privately owned company, was launched to provide domestic flights to far-flung places such as Mokhotlong and Thaba-Tseka.
Airlink was established in 1995 and incorporated a number of other smaller airlines.
In 1997 Airlink joined South African Airways and South African Express Airways in a strategic alliance.
However, the alliance was discontinued in early 2006.
Besides servicing almost all the South African major airports, Airlink flies not only to Lesotho but also Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

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