The national sales team from parastatal airline SA Express touched down in Durban on Wednesday to announce a strategic partnership with the Durban Chamber of Commerce.

As a result, Chamber members will be flying a little lighter with a 5% discount on peak flights and an 8% discount on off-peak flights.

The visit was something of a reputational damage exercise, with the sales team acknowledging problems around their operations and trying to drum up flagging support from the Durban business community.

“We apologise for the inconvenience from when we were grounded this year but we can assure all our clients that the suspension was only an administrative issue,” said divisional manager Mpho Majatladi, referring to a 48-hour suspension of operations in May 2016 that sparked confusion and rage from thousands of stranded passengers.

This was despite a statement by the South African Civil Aviation Authority that SA Express had consistently breached safety-compliance requirements.

Clearly the airline was on a charm offensive to counter recent bad press:  among other things the suspension of the airline’s operation in May and the resultant storm, the concern from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) in April regarding late and incomplete financial statements and a R10 million backlog in aircraft services charges, the suspension of a senior manager in July for allegedly taking bribes and the airline’s notoriety for always being late for take-offs and arrivals.

“In order to address these delays and cancellations, we have ordered three more Bombadier CRJ900 aircraft and will also use chartered aircraft to fill any gaps,” Majadladi said.

“We need to restore our credibility.  We have augmented our Durban fleet with chartered aircraft and, at the moment, we serve 17 destinations on 18 domestic routes.  We have re-committed ourselves to customer service and we are using data mining to address concerns that are raised,” he concluded.