SAA had to activate its emergency control centre yesterday morning in an attempt to resolve the deadlock between itself and Air Zimbabwe.
The delays for passengers travelling from Harare to Johannesburg worsened yesterday afternoon, with at least two SAA flights prevented from taking off.
An Air Zimbabwe passenger flight was prohibited from taking off from OR Tambo International Airport after an inspection by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Friday night.
The Zimbabwean aviation authority hit back on Saturday morning by preventing one of SAA’s scheduled flights departing from Harare.
President Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore, is the chief executive of Air Zimbabwe.
Aviation sources said Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 767-200 stranded at OR Tambo is the one Mugabe normally uses for international travels.
Mugabe is expected to fly home tonight, after the SADC summit in Pretoria.
By late yesterday afternoon, the issue was referred to the governments of both countries for mediation because negotiations had come to a standstill.
In a statement yesterday, the department of transport said Minister Joe Maswanganyi would “be meeting all aviation entities” to discuss the Zimbabwean plane’s grounding.
The CAA’s official statement said it conducted a routine inspection of the Boeing 767-200 required by international aviation regulations and found that the aircraft’s foreign operator’s licence, which allows it to fly internationally, and other prescribed documents were not on board.
But City Press’s sister newspaper Rapport learnt from pilots that there is a bilateral agreement between airlines operating in southern Africa that crews do not have to have the permits on board.
After Air Zimbabwe’s plane was grounded, the Zimbabwean aviation authority also asked the SAA crews for their permits, which they also did not have in their possession.
Martin Louw, operational head of Comair, said it was informed by the Zimbabwean authorities that it was subject to the same restrictions.
“We were … informed by our staff in Zimbabwe that our aircraft will not be allowed to return with passengers on the orders of the ministry of transport of Zimbabwe.”