DA calls for independent probe into dangerous SAA vaccine flight to Brussels

Issued by Chris Hunsinger MP & Ghaleb Cachalia MP –
24 Mar 2021 in News

The DA calls for an investigation by an independent aviation commission into suspicions that the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) tried to sweep an alleged 90-ton miscalculation on the SAA flight that collected a batch of vaccines from Brussels under the carpet.

The “alpha floor event”,  which resulted in an “extraordinarily dangerous” event on take-off, reportedly happened on 24 February 2021 as the Brussels-bound flight departed Johannesburg. However, the event was only reported to SACAA on 17 March, three weeks after the fact. This while SACAA regulations stipulate that incidents must be reported within 24 – 72 hours after it happened, depending on the seriousness of the incident.

It is alleged that the specialist in charge at SAA deemed the event as minor and therefore did not report it. The event only came to light after an aircraft engineer picking up the data after an automated system had alerted the airplane and engine manufacturers, and then escalating it up the ranks.

An “alpha floor event” is significant event as Airbus’ own protective systems overrides the pilots to stop the plane from stalling.

It has also been alleged that the crew training was not done by a training institution familiar with SAA standard operating procedure and that this flight was initially grounded be SACAA due to the pilots lacking the required flight hours but was eventually allowed to leave South Africa with 13 exemptions. Why was SACAA pressured into allowing the flight to leave with an unprecedented number of exemptions?

Safety cannot be compromised. Fleets must be properly maintained, especially as a detailed notice from the SAA business rescue practitioners (BRPs) to affected parties outlined all outstanding matters to be finalized and completed by the end of March, including payments to both employees and creditors. There needs to be a clear understanding of exactly what is being paid out and what lies next on the agenda vis a vis the ‘new’ airline.

The DA has noted that the SACAA will investigate this incident. However, in light of the seeming undue influence over the Authority to authorise this flight, we are of the view that the investigation should be conducted independently. The DA has written to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula in this regard.

The fact that SACAA seems to be trying to downplay or bury this incident could have serious implications for South Africa as a member of the international Aviation Association in terms of our international safety standard protocols. It is something the South African aviation industry simply cannot afford, and as such all those responsible for trying to conceal this event should be disciplined after a thorough independent investigation.

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