Stuttering Engines & A Presidential Cockpit

Last night my engine stuttered.  First it wouldn’t start.  Ok, mostly because Cirrus’s fuel injected Continental 6 cylinder engine is notoriously difficult to get going when its hot.  Its cranky.  Finally ZS-JAB roared into life and I was ready for the cross-country.  Steve was about to throw a number of night aviation curve balls at me, and I was nervous.  Then we rolled to Alpha 2 taxi way at Lanseria to conduct engine power ups and .. trouble.  During power checks the engine wouldn’t idle properly, it was coughing and wheezing.  That’s a major problem.  For when you’re landing the engine has to be idling like a purring kitty so that if a fox leaps out of the night bush you can gun the throttle and jump the brute.

But if the engine dies as you’re coming in to land, its nasty. Particularly when its as black as the ace of spades. Steve and I agreed it wasn’t safe to take off and we headed back to Hangarland. But there is a point to this pontificating.

During inspection, I noticed the left fuel tank was reading almost empty.  But the tank was full to the brim.  By now we all know the mantra about accidents happening when 3 things go wrong simultaneously.  Last night I had two out of three.  Earlier visual inspection of the fuel gauge (which often has issues) led us to conclude that the gauge was faulty.  Discomforting, but not terminal.

However a stuttering engine that’s trying to idle is a possible catastrophe waiting to happen.

This got me thinking about reports at the weekend about a training school at Heidelberg airport where questions have begun to surface about how effectively its operating.  What would have happened at other aviation institutions?  What would instructors have done at Vukani Aviation had they found their engine stuttering at 18h20 Zulu?

Heidelberg Airfield. Location of SA Flight Training Academy. SAFTA
Heidelberg Airfield. Location of SA Flight Training Academy. SAFTA

The Sunday Times reported this week that a probe has been launched by the Civil Aviation Authority into the South African Flight Training Academy, or SAFTA.  It’s owned by Nhlanhla Dube who has apparently called himself “the commander of the Presidential jet”.   I thought the president was the commander of the jet.  Dube may or may not be the captain of the presidential jet.  The Sunday Times says not.

But I digress.  Dube has received a whacking R1.2m per previously disadvantaged trainee – R66m for 59 would-be pilots.


Dube owns Vukani aviation under which SAFTA reclines.  He was the winner of the aviation lottery.  The National Skills Fund’s New Growth Path tender worth an eye-watering  R66-million.  Vukani scooped another R12-million from the Transport Education and Training Authority to train another 12 pilots.  Whooo, nice.  Who says there’s no money in aviation?

It’s taken 2 years for around a third of Vukani’s trainees to receive their Comm License.  That’s not too bad despite pundits suggesting that its dismal.  Most pilots I know have taken at least that long to go from their first day through PPL to CPL – in fact most take around 3 years because it costs so much and they need to work their way between flights.  Admittedly, these trainees are being fully funded by Ma & Pa taxpayer as opposed to everyone else.   Which means they should be in the air 6 days a week. Which means they should be getting their Comm licenses a tad quicker than you or me.

But the big issue is flight instructors.  Many have reportedly left his school after complaining about a number of issues.   One involved maintenance.  You don’t muck with maintenance.

Dube is fighting back, calling the reports the work of  “people opposed to transformation”. Like the people at the CAA apparently.   They’re also investigating an incident last week where one of Vukani’s Cessna’s ended up in a vegetable patch close to the runway at Heidelberg.

No biggie, folks.  I have personal experience of a load of incidents like this.  It’s part of learning to fly.  At least the emergency landing was made successfully too, which indicates correct training.   Then there’s the mutterings about his pilots failing to be hired by SAA or SA Express.  But that’s a bit disingenuous.  Most people need around 5 years to get close to the hours required to sit in the 1st Officers seat.


However be sure of one thing:  If the s0-called non transformed CAA finds that Dube, who didn’t own an aviation company before the initial tender, is found to be deficient in his operations,  his license will be either suspended or terminated.

Links to the president’s cockpit or not.  Will Vukani’s obvious links to the cash-dispensary known as government lead to the CAA being de-clawed?  Hope not.

Finally the crux of this biscuit is:

I hope Dube et al continue to opt out of flying when faced with a stuttering engine at 18h20 Zulu.