Football Fuel Delay… Disaster

Commercial Pilot Sisy Arias was killed on flight 2933 – it was her first commercial flight as first officer where she was monitoring proceedings from the jump seat.  Here she is climbing out of a Cirrus which is the type I fly.

While we await the proper investigator report,  its now clear that the laMia flight 2933 with Brazil’s giant-killing Chapecoense football team on board ran out of fuel.  We know this already because a flight attendant has told us,  because there was no fire,  because the plane was at the very extreme of its endurance.   We also know this because Colombian and Brazilian aviation investigators have told us this is the case.  We know this because the captain told the Medellin ATC that the the plane “had insufficient fuel”.   While some are still searching for an excuse,  there can be no excuse and sorry my aviating crew,  the buck stops at the very front of the plane and, to be precise,  the left front.  The seat where the captain is located.

The captain must make decisions about people’s lives constantly.  There are many captains I’m reading today who’ve defended the man who took a plane past its refuelling point and flirted with lady Luck.  She ran out of patience for a man who’d done this before and this time the disaster has shattered the fairy tale which was Chapecoense Football team on their way to their Copa Sudamericana final in Medellin.  For the family of those who perished this must be a shocking revelation. For the fans its doubling infuriating because their courageous team which had climbed to Division A from Division D was not scripted to die in an aviation disaster.   Losing 2-1 in the Copa Sudamericana Final would have been painful enough.  Losing 71-0 is catastrophic.

The captain apparently decided to continue when it was prudent to reconsider options.  He cut into his emergency fuel which is a no-go zone for pilots of commercial airlines.  In South Africa this is reported as an aviation incident.  It’s 30 minutes of fuel that you just don’t use under any circumstances unless its an emergency.  Once you’re in that situation you HAVE to declare an emergency so that ATC and everyone else gets you on the ground pronto.   The emergency is declared through those fearsome words “mayday mayday mayday” three times.

For the record,  here is the process commercial pilots follow when fuel becomes an issue:

  1. Request delay information from the ATC when fuel begins to run low
  2. Declare MINIMUM FUEL when committed to land at a specific aerodrome and any change in the existing clearance may result in a landing with less than planned final reserve fuel – you do NOT say insufficient fuel,  you say MINIMUM fuel
  3. Declare a fuel emergency when the calculated fuel on landing at the nearest suitable aerodrome, where a safe landing can be made, will be less than the planned final reserve fuel – and you do that by saying MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY

Option 3 was required in this instance.

Once you’re in that situation you HAVE to declare and emergency so that ATC and everyone else gets you on the ground pronto

However, this captain used a Spanish euphemism “insufficient fuel” which told the ATC nothing.  Insufficient for what?  Not enough to continue flying?  While both were speaking in Spanish,  the actual language which should have been used is English, the language of aviation.  When you utter those fearsome words, everything and everyone stops what they’re doing and comes to your support.   The ATC was already dealing with a second deviating plane that had reported technical problems.  It’s one of those cases where a dangerous game of Russian Roulette was about to come to a bloody end.

The ATC informed the captain that he would have to continue holding for seven minutes  while the other airliner  was allowed to land.   But they were in no immediate danger.   Our captain was.  He knew it.  Sitting alongside him was the first officer.  Fate conspired to put 29 year-old Sisy Arias on board.  It was her first – and last – flight as crew on board a commercial airliner.  The captain appears to have killed her along with virtually the entire giant-killing football team and 20 journalists, coaches, admin staff.

Perhaps had she had more experience she would have forced the captain to reconsider his actions.  Perhaps he was showing off his manliness to a newbie?  Whatever motivated the captain, Arias was certainly unable to interject as the Avro RJ-85 flew past its scheduled refuelling stop.  Machismo perhaps as he showed off for a beautiful young co-pilot?   Or the fact that the Captain was co-owner of the entire airline and not refuelling would have saved money?  It would have meant no delays for a football team on its grand mission, allowing them more time at Medellin to rest and recreate before the big game?

So many reasons to break the aviation law,  all undefensible.

I’m really sorry if this sounds self-righteous, but I have been in a situation as a pilot in a flight from Durban to Lanseria where the highly experienced instructor sitting on my right ordered me to change course to Rand Airport and refuel.  We were about to begin burning reserve fuel.  When I released how smart he was, how wise,  I thanked God that Russell Donaldson was my instructor.  More prosaic instructors would have pointed out the fuel issue and then winked and said “Lanseria is only a few minutes away, ignore it” and no-one would have known.   Unless we had exhausted the two tanks and crashed.  Then the lack of fuel odour and fire, not to mention gauges on “0” would have led to a shaking of heads amongst the aviators who know better.

But Russell didn’t.  He pointed out that we were a few minutes away from reserve and the prudent thing to do would be to land at Rand and put in a few thousand rands worth of avgas.  That experience I will never forget, and that’s why hearing of this incident has upset me.  What was the captain thinking?  Was he thinking?


The track of Flight 2933 from Bolivia to Colombia – FlightRadar24.

But he didn’t declare any emergency.  Neither did the first officer who had unfortunately been scheduled to fly that day on her first commercial flight as crew.  I feel really sorry for her, ten years of training and entering probably one of the most exciting days of her short career to be killed by your highly experienced partner in the left seat who spent the final minutes shouting “vectors to the airfield” at the ATC who clearly had no idea that there was a real life emergency going on.

Three players survived the crash along with two crew members and a reporter.

There are a few other things we should be mentioned.   The captain of the flight was also the owner of the laMia airline, and a well known Bolivian pilot  who was regarded as connected to the Bolivian government.  The International aviation agreements stipulate a chartered aircraft must belong to a company that operates in the country of departure or destination – so the Chapecoense Football Team management could not leave from Sao Paulo.  They selected to honour the contract with the Venezuelan company that operates from Bolivia and flew there first.  LaMia had experience in moving football teams so they cracked the nod.   And destroyed the dreams of a small Brazilian town which had become symbolic in a nation challenged by corruption and political chaos.


(An earlier version of this story had the pilot/captain as a Venezuelan national.  I apologise for the error)

MH370 Report Indicates Plane Was Descending With Flaps Retracted


So now we know.  At least,  we know what experts probing MH370 suspect happened in the final moments of the flight in March 2014, somewhere off the West Coast of Australia and over one of the deepest parts of the Indian Ocean.   Two hundred and thirty nine people were aboard the Boeing 777 when it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.   The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released a report on Wednesday which analyses wing flap debris which they say shows the aircraft was not configured for a landing.   How it ended up in the opposite direction to where it was going is still a mystery.

The latest report is here.

Australia’s Transport Minister Darren Chester has told a media conference that the search will continue until the end of this year, and that the plane wreckage is still believed to be in the area being probed.

That’s a vast area 120,000 kilometres square.   The ATSB says somewhere in that area is a plane which from satellite communications show it could have been in a “high and increasing rate of descent” when it disappeared from radar.

Aviators call this various things.  One is a death dive.    All from the damage assessed on a flaperon that washed up on a remote beach months after MH370 vanished.

The plaperon recovered from Reunion in July 2015

It could be one of the most important pieces of information since the crash as some have said the pilot or someone may have glided the plane into the ocean, and if that started from 36 000 feet it means the Boeing could be up to 250km outside the search area.

A blog I wrote last year analysed the scenarios and one featured the pilot or first officer being implicated in the final moments.  This is a very sensitive and legally fractious view and one which cannot be proven – yet.

It’s the chilling view of the End of Flight Simulations in the report that attracts attention.

The location of the flaperon on a Boeing

In April 2016, the ATSB defined a range of scenarios for the manufacturer to simulate in their engineering simulator.  Values included the aircraft’s speed, fuel, electrical configuration and altitude, along with the turbulence level.

The results have all been aligned to the point two minutes after the loss of power from the engines. This is the theorised time at which the 7th arc transmissions would have been sent.



The report also has these two points:

  • Some of the simulated scenarios recorded descent rates that equalled or exceeded values derived from the final SATCOM transmission. Similarly, the increase in descent rates across an 8 second period (as per the two final BFO values) equalled or exceeded those derived from the SATCOM transmissions. Some simulated scenarios also recorded descent rates that were outside the aircraft’s certified flight envelope.
  • The results of the scenarios, combined with the possible errors associated with the BTO values indicate that the previously defined search area width of ±40 NM is an appropriate width to encompass all uncontrolled descent scenarios from the simulations.

This is crucial too,  but keep in mind that the ATSB has said constantly that the scenarios are not the only ones possible – but are the most likely.   The damage analysis of the flaperon washed up on Reunion is now central.  From the report:

“Damage to the internal seal pan components at the inboard end of the outboard flap was possible with the auxiliary support track fully inserted into the flap. That damage was consistent with contact between the support track and flap, with the flap in the retracted position. The possibility of the damage originating from a more complex failure sequence, commencing with the flaps extended, was considered much less likely.”


The flap shows fracturing consistent with damage which occurred while it was retracted – ATSB

Finally the ATSB says on their initial report published on November 2nd:

  • The right outboard flap was most likely in the retracted position at the time it separated from the wing.
  • The right flaperon was probably at, or close to, the neutral position at the time it separated from the wing.

This is still no salve for the horror family members continue to suffer – waiting for signs of where their loved ones lie on the floor of one of the world’s most isolated oceans.



Investing in Nigeria? Take a Taxi

Not so fast – we’re no longer servicing this route – Emirates

Emirates Airlines has announced this month that its no longer servicing any route to or from Nigeria quoting a host of challenges in the country’s aviation industry.  Problem number one is that Abuja, which has fixed its currency for years,  suddenly decided to let the naira trade openly on the market.   The currency collapsed faster than a thug hit with cosh.  The worrying sign for South Africa which has observed its rand plunge by a third against the dollar in a year,  is Nigeria’s negligible naira has led to Emirates announcing it can’t sustain costs flying into Africa’s second biggest economy.

The equivalent in Asia would be Emirates pulling out of Japan.

Ja, the idea is preposterous but gives credence to the belief that Nigerian Aviation authorities are a contradiction in terms.  It’s also true to say that a long-standing tradition of corruption, mismanagement and pure greed has finally caught up with the country’s aviation sector.

The trouble in the aviation sector is long term,  but this year the wings really came off particularly in June when the government said it would deregulate the naira and allow the currency to devalue naturally.  And naturally it devalued immediately,  plunging like a fatally wounded Stuka. Worse, the flow of dollars into the country dried up as traders became fearful of what the real value of the naira really was.  Or in this case,  wasn’t.  The Nigerian currency shed 50% of its value by the start of the final quarter of 2016.  The immediate effect was on the cost of jet fuel which doubled in a month.  For a country that has oil reserves,  the irony should not be lost on us, dear readers.

So by the end of September Arik Air announced it was suspending ops.  Then Aero Contractors froze flights – which is a big story because its the oldest aviation company in Nigeria.  First Nation Airways has also shut shop, followed by United Airlines, Iberia and Emirates in October.

Stung by regional guffaws,  Nigeria’s politicians have sudden woken up and demanded that the Central Bank of Nigeria and the National Petroleum Corporation appear before the house of Representatives Committee on Aviation and explain themselves.  The good news is Access Bank managed to raise $300 million via a Eurobond from the international bond market to fund fuel.  But this is throwing a thimble of water at a blazing oil well.

Two more airlines this week said they could not offer flights – Dana Air and Medview.  So let’s go over what this really means.  Put it another way.  Forty Seven Airlines have gone broke in 30 years.

  1. Investors stop flying into Nigeria and even charter flights slow down.  This has an effect on sentiment and capital growth
  2. Medical evacuations are cut which means tourists think twice about traveling to the west African state
  3. Government officials are forced to fly by charter which increases the country’s transport bill – and angers locals who regard this as elitism

The fading relevance of Aviation in Nigeria is a shame, given the country’s massive oil reserves and its much vaunted importance to the African narrative.  It’s not just the naira. Politicians in Nigeria have used aviation as a tax tool for years with the mistaken belief that its a goose that just will lay vast amounts of golden eggs.   The broken system includes multiple taxation nodes, deviation from policy without notice,  cost of renting apron space, and bribery and corruption.  Its worse than bad,  its shambolic, and symbolised by the country’s  Airspace Management Agency charging dollars from domestic airline operations.  That would be similar to the CAA in South Africa charging pilots in dollars to renew licenses.  There would be an uprising.   

Nigeria also charges VAT on the purchase of aircraft which is a 1950’s policy and punitive.   Operators flying OUT of Nigeria are hit with levy’s which is lunacy.   It’s what happens when people who are politicians and greedy at that, are given a small feudal pool in which to wade and then drain it for their own jacuzzi back home.  But before you think I’m being a tad harsh,  some additional facts.

Nigeria’s former Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, faces  charges of corruption after she was involved in the purchase of two bullet-proof BMW’s priced at a whopping $800,000 each during her time in office. The fact that the cars were actually a measly $300,000 means that half a million dollars each was pure profit for… someone.   While Oduah remains out of jail and fighting for her political life,  the story has come to symbolise Nigeria’s wobbly governance issues and its extremely tenuous aviation industry.

But when there’s weakness, there’s opportunity.  I would hasten to Nigeria with a bag full of dollars in investment capital and buy up the logistics of the country if possible.  Jet fuel supplies are vital to any nation,  so come on all you capitalists.  There’s gold awaiting in the hills of West Africa.








Forget Drones Watch For Dronkgats

Sven Tailback, Unsplash. 


There we were, minding our own beeswax when suddenly the story dropped.  Two pilots arrested at Glasgow airport.  The charge?  Suspicion of being drunk on duty.  So let that sink in, folks.  Two pilots,  United Airlines, Drunk.  Passengers.  Busy flight.  Slurred reporting.  Blurred vision.  An intimate experience with the granite cloud awaits.

United Airlines confirmed the two unnamed pilots aged 35 and 45 were taken away by Scottish police on Sunday August 28th who reported the two were “carrying out pilot function or activity while exceeding the prescribed limit of alcohol”.

Now that is a scary story.  I know my commercial pilot friends will titter and the more gung ho amongst them will defend the pilots with something along the lines of “It’s a stressful job” or “they weren’t actually drunk,  just had babelas”.


The law is pretty strict when it comes to driving an aeroplane filled with passengers.  Alcohol stays in your system for 8 hours and even longer if its a binge.  That’s why Aviation Law (yes I recently failed my Comm exam but know enough to knew this) says all pilots should refrain from imbibing alcohol at least 12 hours before flying.

Staying upright. 

Alcoholics have an even bigger problem.  When you’re stressed,  the poison seeps back into your blood stream so that you may be sober when the incident starts,  but by the time its progressed to an emergency your bloodstream is drenched in various chemicals.  Some of these help, like adrenalin.  Some don’t.  Like alcohol.

The two pilots here were held in the cockpit by police.  The question has to be asked “who figured out how dronk these two were?” if indeed they were dronk.  But given United Airlines comment,  there’s no doubt whatever happens they’re in REAL trouble.

It means goodbye license.

There’ve been many cases of accidents directly related to pilot incapacitation caused by many things.  Mainly alcohol.  So let’s take a look at a few.

  1. McDonnell Douglas operated by Japan Airlines in 1977 crashed after take-off from Anchorage airport in Alaska.  Cause? From the report “The initial blood alcohol level of the captain was 298 mugs percent. A blood alcohol level of 100 mgs percent was considered to be legally intoxicating for drivers in the State of Alaska”.
  2. De Havilland DHC Twin Otter operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force in 1972 crashed into a mountain near near Harstad, Norway.  All 17 aboard were killed. Cause? Pilot’s high blood alcohol level and lack of sleep.
  3. Douglas C-47A crashed on final approach at Vaasa Airport in Finland in 1961.  All 25 aboard were killed and the cause was officially ascribed to the pilot and first officer both having been .. well .. drunk. 

There are at least 39 other examples of air accidents directly related to flying drunk.  The full list can be found at the Aviation Safety Website.  The majority of these include the words “Antonov” and at least 8 are linked to Aeroflot.

Things have improved in Russia since the plethora of incidents in the ’70s but the macho male culture in the region has not.

Let’s read what Captain Wendy Morse Chairman, United MEC has to say to her fellow pilots this week.

“As I read the articles, I began to understand how long it could take, worst case, to return to a zero blood alcohol level after having maybe one too many drinks in a fatigued state.  In one of my calculations I doubled the time as one article indicates metabolism can vary by as much as 50 percent, and I start below the average weight to begin with.  I came up with 20 hours – too long to be over the legal alcohol limit and recover.  I also was reminded from the articles about serving size, and therefore how to count what I have consumed properly.”

Twenty hours?  A whole day before flying.  Aviation Law states the following:

FAR 91.17 states that we may not operate or attempt to operate an aircraft:

  • Within 8 hours of having consumed alcohol
  • While under the influence of alcohol
  • With a blood alcohol content of 0.04% or greater

But the wise pilot will abstain completely at least 24 hours before taking off.  The punishment is harsh.  All certification will be revoked and the pilots will not be able to regain them for a minimum of a year.  Twelve months no income.  Disaster just because you decided to have a few shots of tequila within the window period.

Makes no sense after decades of hard work to write everything off in a haze of mestizo.



Cirrus SR22 Conversion No Time To Muck About

Approaching Lanseria Runway 250 in a 21 knots gusting 33 knots crosswind.  Hang on folks.

I’m officially a twit.  An idiot.  Lazy. Incompetent.  Criminally stupid.  Pitifully backward in a world full of forward.   A chump.  A lump.  Or as my latin teacher would repeat regularly,  a Philistine.

This is all because I have decided to put on hold my attempts at writing all nine commercial pilot aviation exams at this point.  It’s all because of law.  Aviation law.  I manage a measly 60-odd percent when the pass mark is 75%.  So instead of suicide or further laceration of ego,  I decided to convert to the Cirrus SR22 from the SR20 while the proverbial licking of the intellectual wounds continues.

Why? I hear a veritable chorus of voices yell, oh why?

‘Cos its much faster and has more power.  In a nutshell.  So there, its public.  The vague ramblings about aviation philosophy have been replaced by a simple edict.   It’s got a bigger engine.

Approaching the threshold Runway 07 (opposite 250) – after an orbit to the left.

We’re a pathetic lot, us boys.  Still,  it took 4 hours instead of the usual 3 because I spent the last training session more worried about an upcoming gig at a wedding that afternoon than really concentrating.  And when you’re whizzing about the world at 300 kph you better have focus.  Sorry Steve (my instructor) who looked irritated after my shoddy landing back home at Lanseria.

But allow me to wax at least a little lyrical about said SR22?  Can we please look at some of the performance indicators.

It cruises at a whopping 184 knots,  or 340 kph.  It climbs at 1400 feet per minute (sea level), whereas planes like the Cessna Skylane only managed 924 fpm. To give you an example just how good that is,  an  Airbus A320 climbs at around 2200 feet per minute.


Well I know, its an explosion of gasps! !!  Yes folks,  the SR22 is a performance aeroplane.  After converting my first flight was to take a photographer (my son) on an excursion to Potchefstroom at low level.  That was exciting as there was an 18 knot cross wind at Lanseria.  Take-off was fine and we were off.  But before leaving Lanseria airspace I realised that there was just no way we could continue.  The plane was bucking and the turbulence was extreme.  And because of no flight plan,  I could not climb to a high altitude to escape the effect of wind whipping over the nearby hills and throwing us around like mad dolls.

So I contacted Lanseria and requested a return to airfield.  Runway 250 was in use with the wind coming from 330 – virtually 90˚ to the right.  It had increased to 21knots which is the Cirrus Cross wind capacity.  I wasn’t too worried,  having trained in heavy crosswinds through my great instructor’s insistence.  Russell Donaldson is a legend and he made me land the unforgiving Maule MX7 in a 30 knot crosswind so I was sure it would be fine.

That was until we were steady on short final,  when ATC advised me that the wind had begun to gust at 33 knots.  Leaping from 21 to 33 knots as a virtual 90˙ crosswind is a completely different kettle of fish.   That leads directly to what’s known as wind shear.  I considered aborting,  but then decided that my setup on the final was steady and I was in a good frame of mind that we’d go ahead.  However I decided should we have to do a go-around,  I’d fly to Pilansberg and wait there for the winds to die down.  Pilansberg would see that wind coming a lot straighter down the runway.


Ahead a Cessna 172 had bounced on landing and was warning about the extreme wind effect.  That made me a little more nervous.  Then we hit the wind shear which shifted the plane both down 50 feet and around 50 feet off the centre line.  But I was ready and pulled the plane back into line with the rudders,  aileron hard down into the wind, crabbing and we were over the threshold.  I held off as long as possible, then she was down.

See those dots?  Cows in a field. ©Keegan Latham 2016

We drifted a little to the right as I hadn’t straightened the rudders enough,  but not by much.  A good landing that could have gone extremely badly.  My son was calm throughout and said he was happy to be on the ground.  The SR22 is not to be trifled with,  heavier engine, faster, more right rudder.

We took off two days later in calm conditions and completed the video and photoshoot.  All safe.  All good.









Deep Blue & Mustard Orange

There are beautiful moments in the world of aviation.  Last weekend I had one.  Standing in the semi-dark at Lanseria Airport,  I was struck by the fact that a Boeing was in the circuit.  It’s always exciting watching or sharing airspace with a Boeing pilot undergoing circuit training.  The pure power as the plane does a touch and go.  The sound on the ground of a large jet circling the airfield.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 2.58.14 PM

On 21st May it was even more beautiful.  While the Boeing pilot/s trained, a Blue Moon waxed overhead.  Alongside the Moon, Mars glowered in an orange mistiness.  It was partly cloudy so I wasn’t sure that the astronomical event would feature during my flight.

A blue moon is when 4 full moons appear in a season instead of 3.  Usually a blue moon means the Moon is actually the second full moon in a month.  But in a strange twist,  Blue moon of 21st May actually means its a full moon that’s appeared for the fourth time in a season.  Thus, its an unusual event.  Like a Blue Moon.   At least astronomers aren’t confused.

Mars in opposition means the earth passes directly between Mars and the Sun and Mars then gleams so brightly in the night that it looks like a bursting star.  Its way the brightest thing in the night sky so keep looking up folks,  that’s going to last for  a few weeks yet.

But as luck would have it, the Moon and Mars sauntered into view as I took off.  Later, turning in the general flying area –  suddenly – I was alone in the great big sky of Johannesburg.  It was like a switch had been flicked.  Bright moonlight shone on the northern Magagliesberg Ridge which looms up to a high point of 6000 feet, ready to trip up an unsuspecting night pilot.  A single plane was descending into Rand Airport 50km away. A chopper swirled around FNB towers near Soweto.   In the north, around Rustenberg and Pilansberg, nothing moved.

Here something special – A night flight during a blue moon & mars in opposition

It’s hard to put into words the exact feeling as you fly in such clear skies on a windless night, with a Blue Moon and Mars in opposition for company.  For a fleeting moment I felt a little like what space travellers may feel.  Solitude, an alien loneliness, an ache to fly.






EgyptAir MS804 A Terrible Reality

An EgyptAir flight with 66 people on board has disappeared from radar screens over the Mediterranean.  The prognosis is bad.  Its been a terrible  year for the airline and aviation business in Egypt.  My recent experience there was stressful.  The authorities are very nervous.  Passengers are catatonically quiet aboard planes and awaiting to embark.  There are smiles at disembarkation.

I felt a like an animal off to slaughter and security personnel were twitchy.  They took me away for questioning over a video pen I use on travels, eventually deciding I and my pen were harmless.

“We made it” was the thought on my mind stepping off the FlyDubai plane in Dubai after leaving Alexandria. The country is in the grip of a political crisis with international ramifications. Those ramifications are once again highlighted by the list of passengers on board.

This from @EGYPTAIR Twitter Feed:egypt_Air_flight804


The passengers:

  15 French 

30 Egyptian

1 Briton

1 Belgian

2 Iraqis


1 Sudanese

1 Chadians 

1 Portuguese

1 Algerian

1 Canadian (?)

1 Kuwaiti

But what now for EgyptAir?  Whatever caused this disappearance is going to have a severe effect on the airline.  When I recently flew to Egypt the only reason the flight was not changed to Emirates by the sponsor was the extra cost.  In future I shall not fly EgyptAir.

The aviation industry in Egypt is part of the political establishment which was hijacked in 2014 by the military preferring not to have a hardline Islamic presidency and summarily removed Mohamed Morsi the incumbent.  Moderate Egyptians found themselves in two minds.  Many objected to their revolution being effectively ended by the same people who supported Mubarak while at the same time some were growing concerned about Morsi’s preference for Sharia law.   The Muslim Brotherhood which had come into power threatened violence after his arrest and has subsequently delivered.

A little later the dark and ominous Daesh or Islamic State as it prefers to be known in english,  arrived on the scene and since then,  more violence.  And a chartered Russian flight was blown out of the sky over the Sinai killing 224 people.

EgyptAir has had its unfair share of crashed airliners.  This Airbus A320 had an extremely experienced crew on board.  It also had three security personnel listed as passengers.  Prior to more information, this just looks like a possible act of terror.  During my visit to Egypt I wondered at the number of jets at Cairo airport.  Droves.   Virtually every single one was an EgyptAir plane on the apron and very few other airliners were landing or taking off.  The effect on the country’s tourism industry has been immense.

As I explained in a previous blog, security is extremely tight at Egyptian airports.  But this plane took off from Paris which has seen its own terrorism.  I’m concerned that even with the high level of awareness and action by security at airports around the world,  the latest version of aviation terror is just too extreme to counter those who want to kill themselves and everyone else in their immediate vicinity.





A Conspiracy of SA Express Silence After Flight Management Flimflam



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.  Old_Embraer_FMS

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.”

*my bold

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.


Alexandria Airport Fear & Loathing

I passed through Bourj Al Arab Airport near Alexandria on Friday 8th April and experienced the full frontal assault of a seriously secure facility.  No-one allowed through the main doors except for travellers.  Five layers of security.  Fear and loathing permeated the building, darkened by sand blown in by southerly winds from the Sahara.  It was 40 degrees and the passengers alongside me were generally friendly.  They were also resigned to their slow moving fate.  Hijabs and Nuns habits, little kids running about playing with torches and plastic trucks.  It was the sabbath so families permeated,  along with a religious tour heading to Dubai on FZ 172 from HBE to DXB.  On board a 737 run by FlyDubai.  One of their planes crashed last month in Russia killing all on board.  I was not that happy to be flying FlyDubai.

Bourj Al Arab airport, an hours drive South West of Alexandria, Egypt.

Then things got worse.  I carry a special pen that allows me to record audio and video which passed through security check point one.  Then security check point two, with full bells and whistles, shoes off,  and a rather invasive thigh to crotch search by a somewhat enthusiastic moustached policeman.  Then up the escalators to Security Check point 3.   A slumped uniform beckoned me over.  Generally I take off my jacket and place it in the plastic tray along with my laptop.  But uniform had decided there was something suspicious about my pen.

The Pen that caused the trouble in Egypt

He shouted “You, come here, come here” so I knew there was a problem. He was on his mobile. Within a few minutes an uniformed cop arrived and prodded my pen.

“What is this?” he asked.

“It’s a dictaphone”  I said.

“Show me”

I showed him how the pen wrote and the USB under the screw off metal case.  He seemed unconvinced.  At this point my wife who was watching from beyond the X-ray machine moved away.  I was aware that things were going downhill rapidly.  Mr Plain Clothed whipped out his mobile and spoke at length to what appeared to be a senior security officer.

“No, ok, you wait” uniformed said to my wife,  who ignored him and walked to the toilet.  I had memorised my Egyptian contacts number in case of problems and was ready to ask for a phone call when the plain clothed cop told me to follow him.  He took my passport and boarding pass, handed it to customs and we took a lift downstairs.

I was in real trouble.  With a recent flight full of Russian tourists blown out of the sky and an FlyDubai aircraft crash at Rostov-on-Don,  I had entered the contract to head off to Alexandria with a few misgivings.  These were now appearing to come true.  Worsened by the MetroJet flight blown up in the Sinai in November, killing all 225 on board.

The security manager looked up as we approached.

“What is this?” he asked.

“My business dictaphone, look I switch it on here and that means I don’t have to use my hands – I just stick it in my pocket.”

“Ok, no problem – come with me”

He walked away from the police and then said

“Put it away, you can’t take that on board, but if you leave it in your pocket its fine.”

And with that relief flooded through my body.  I had spent 5 days in Alexandria and saw fewer than 30 tourists in total,  including the ever present Chinese.  The paranoia following the Russian plane disaster had kicked in,  along with the muslim brotherhood which has threatened to kill visitors.  Egypt is in the throes of political instability and I’d finally run slap bang into the sentiment.   But things were not over yet.

Empty tables in Alexandria.

I had to pass through two more security checks – one included a bag search.  Success, the pen passed the test and just before we entered the final gangway to our flight, a fifth check of passengers over an above the usual passport/ticket confirmation.   In a strange way all this made me feel much better about taking a plane out of Egypt.   Surely they’d find a smoking shoe or a couple of grams of explosive if they were so careful about my pen.

Luckily the flight had been delayed by an hour because so had I.  Eventually we took off at 19h15 and made it to Dubai unscathed.  But I won’t be taking FlyDubai in a rush in the future.  Four hour flight and if you wanted any form of entertainment or food and drink it was purchase only.  Not even water was provided which I thought was counter to IATA rules.  But more about FlyDubai next time.



MH370 Horizontal Stabiliser Located? Maybe Not.



The ominous and mysterious jigsaw puzzle that is MH370 may have another piece.  Authorities in Mozambique have displayed a tiny bit of composite white material they say may have come from the Boeing 777.  It’s a smidgeon of a thing, really really small.

Take a look at the image here.

That’s after a flaperon from a 777 washed up on the island of Reunion last year – more than a year after Malaysian Airlines MH370 vanished with all on board.

There’re still a few lunatics who believe that the crew and passengers are being squirrelled away by some nebulous US/Chinese/Malaysian/Afghanistani/Pakistani etc group.  But for the rest of us who live on the planet full-time,  the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean around 7 hours after it took off.  Speculation would have it that the pilot probably drove the thing South Westerly then settled the aircraft gently upon the water so only a few bits broke off.  Why?  For a host of personal and political reasons that we won’t go into here.  If you’re interested, read my previous blog. 

No aviation mystery since Amelia Earheart has been as pervasive and extensive.  If you remember the terrible Air France 447 disappearance there was not much real mystery about its fate.  Bobbing bits of plane appeared shortly after it disappeared a few hours out of Rio de Janeiro en route to France.  In the case of MH370, not much has appeared besides the flaperon which investigators say its more than likely from the Boeing.

A small triangle of composite washed up off Mozambique with “Don’t Step” clearly emblazoned on the top.  So the president of Mozambique’s Civil Aviation Institute (IACM), Joao de Abreu, told journalists on Thursday 3rd March it may be from the airliner – but warned that any speculation it was definitely linked was premature.


That’s wise.  Unlike the flaperon,  the bit of what could be horizontal stabiliser appears to have no sea-life growing on its upper or lower area.  The flaperon on the other hand had drifted around the sea for a year before it washed up in Reunion.  Marine biologists said the barnacles found on the flaperon were more than likely proof it had been in the water around a year.  And aviation experts confirmed it was indeed a Boeing 777 flaperon.

In this instance,  none of this is apparent.

One thing is, however.  The currents and winds would be able to push this piece from the Indian Ocean off Australia all the way to Mozambique.  That is not being debated.

On March 8 its the two-year anniversary of the plane’s disappearance while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard.  That timing alone is pretty cruel for the family of those on board.