I have flown SA Express and Airlink a number of times recently. Last week in fact. From Nelspruit/Mbombela, the romantically named Kruger International Airport, to ORT or Johannesburg airport. The Embraer lifted off at night into a storm and we bumped and humped back and forth yawing and rolling until around 15000 feet when the maelstrom passed. I felt pretty safe. The pilots, including a certain Ms Thompson, were doing all the right things at all the right times. Good flying and no theatrics. Excellent job.
Not a week later and the CAA suspends SA Express for transgressing safety monitoring. Now that’s a bit of a shock. Yet the suspension lasted just a day. Twenty four hours later in a statement the CAA says.
“The lifting of the suspension comes a day after the operator’s AOC privileges were temporarily withdrawn by the SACAA, after recent inspections and audits revealed deficiencies relating to the operator’s safety monitoring systems.”
What exactly were the deficiencies? Why not spell out the specific things that went wrong so we can figure out as passengers whether we think the airline is worth taking a chance with in the future.
Well we know. It was the Flight Management System. That’s a jolly big acronym known as FMS. But the big problem is that SA Express wasn’t properly monitoring this failure. That is verging on a crime. If your loved one (like me I offer as example) were to fly at 600knots into a granite cloud somewhere because the FMS had failed, you’d want your pound of flesh.
Deficiencies relating to the operator’s safety monitoring systems
The flight management system is like the onboard computer. You can input way points and destinations. It’s like a super-charged tom tom and plugs into your display which is like a large tablet screen (or screens). It has a database of locations, frequencies and even manouvres and saves the crew quite of a bit of navigation and other legwork.
When it fails it’s scary. I had a failure on a simple comms the other night and it threw me. Think about a plane, at night, in a storm, where suddenly the crew realise the FMS has failed. It’s even worse when its reading incorrectly but you think its still working. That’s a deadly situation.
Pilots wouldn’t know exactly where they are unless they’re also using an analogue system and VOR. Having a problem is one thing. Not reporting it or monitoring the problem as an airline? That’s like Indonesia where aviation is run by corrupt and useless officials. (Go check the facts if you think that’s an extreme statement).
SAA which owns and operates SA Express is deep, deep in the brown stuff. And red stuff. And accounting brackets. Bailed out by the taxpayer, if this taxpayer had been driven by into a mountain because the FMS had failed and SA Express was toying with standards, whoo boy.
Despite this real problem SA Express or SAX as we know them have gone all gimp-like. Mute.
A conspiracy of silence has blown in across aviation land. The statement issued by the CAA goes on:
“The SACAA will continue to work with all license holders to ensure that safety practices continue to be engraved in the DNA of each entity and operation *; because it is a fact that aircraft accidents, as a result of negligence or otherwise, can have a devastating effect not only on the business of operators or country, but also to the families of those that use air transport services.”
So… let’s get this straight dear blog reader. We can deduce that the safety practices were NOT engraved in the DNA of SA Express. Or is that too cute a logical deduction?
If not engraved, then how so that within hours the DNA is suddenly and magically engraved? What wand does the management of SAX wield that can change operating procedure and adherence at the stroke of a statement?
Can I have one of these wants to pass my dreadfully difficult aviation exams please?
Dear me. I have to leave now for a nappy change having been born yesterday.