SACAA’s “safety measures” lack backing

Issued by Dr Chris Hunsinger – DA Shadow Minister of Transport
06 Dec 2023 in News

The DA demands that the recently withdrawn Aeronautical Information Circular (AIC) 18.19 be immediately reinstated, or a new AIC with the same intent and meaning, be issued by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

With no warning or consultation, the withdrawal was imposed with severe and far-reaching effects. According to reports from the aviation sector, the immediate impact on flight schools, aircraft owners, students and commercial operators is detrimental. Additionally, it will eventually have a long-term negative impact on the aviation industry by raising the cost of flying.

As a direct consequence of the CAA’s purported mishandling of the situation, significant losses have already been incurred and businesses are facing circumstances that could lead to their liquidation. There is strong evidence that no consultation preceded this extreme measure and it has been described as unconstitutional and harshly unsympathetic.

The AIC 18.19 withdrawal necessitates immediate compliance and will have a significant financial impact because any aircraft with an engine older than 12 years must now be overhauled before it can be placed back in service. AIC 18.19 provided an exemption and an alternate method of compliance through an inspection to ensure safe, continued airworthiness. The cost of an overhaul is close to R1 million per engine.

What constitutes a mockery of safety is the ability to travel with your family and friends in an affected aircraft, provided that it satisfies the present regulations and is not considered commercial. It is deemed “unsafe” if the flight is commercial in intent, in other words, payment is received. As a result, it is no longer legal to fly an aircraft commercially with an engine over 12 years old despite it undergoing a service every 100 hours of flight time or every year. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and authorities are alleged to only consider it from the standpoint of potential legal action avoidance and income creation.

The downtime of doing the overhaul, excluding scheduling delays, could run up to a year. If the withdrawal of the AIC is enforced, immediate compliance with the change would be required to ensure that insurance does not become void.

Considering the excellent safety record these older aircrafts have maintained for the last 17 years in compliance with AIC 18.19, this withdrawal has not been substantiated by any empirical data or credible accident statistics from South Africa. We find statements by the CAA relating to “High Risk to Safety” misleading and lacking in supporting data as the service information letters (SILs) and SI’s lack factual substance and in themselves are not mandatory. Significant statistical evidence exists that the risk of engine failure on aircraft, that have exceeded the 12-year overhaul recommendation, does not increase significantly as claimed, providing that other sensible maintenance practices are adhered to.

The poor decision made by the regulator should have been influenced by the effects of the disastrous Covid-19 pandemic, from which the aviation sector is still recovering, and which devastated financial reserves.

The above matter once again highlights the necessity of regulators and policymakers to possess the necessary expertise in their fields. At the least, they should make use of specialists to complement any shortcomings, as they are within the CAA, to ensure that policy and decisions do not harm the national interests. Significantly the democratic process should be always followed and proper consultation with affected parties is essential to avoid any infringements of our Constitution. The Democratic Alliance prides itself on adhering to these principles as its current involvement in several initiatives, to stimulate growth in the Aviation Sector, would attest to.

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