ICAO Inspectorate Stages First Visit To SA Since 2013

Yes, boring title but muo importante.  The United Nations body that makes aviation suggestions that are hard to ignore,  a bit like Scarface,  is in the South African house.  ICAO which stands for ‘International Civil Aviation Organisation’ has its safety inspection team prodding South African systems over the next two weeks.  It comes at an opportune time.  SAA Chairperson Dudu “Sleepy” Myeni hasn’t said a word for a few months, which is good news if you value intelligence reports,  and incidents/crashes are down generally over the past two years.   The team in SA are operating under ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP).  Or Use Soap. To keep a clean safety record.  (Groan)


ICAO also stands for ‘Improvements and Collision Avoidance’  and ‘Instructions for Continued Airworthiness’.  But I digress.  So what’s going to happen?  Well ICAO checks to see if our Civil Aviation Authority is up to scratch,  that Air Traffic Controllers are alert and bushy-tailed, that fuel is available, safety records are kept, maintenance logs are filed, pilots are doing proper training and the hangar ping-pong table has enough green paint along with a long list of other check and balances. Apart from the ping-pong table bit (which is thumb suck) this is a good thing.  ICAO doesn’t make rules,  it has suggested regulations that each nation follows – or doesn’t.  The problem for those who ignore ICAO is their airlines crash and burn.   Or they’re banned.  Or both.

They’re a bit like the inspectors who used to be allowed to check on teachers before SADTU went out of its mind and decided that their so-called maths experts with english as a major shouldn’t be monitored.  Therefore technical education is in a pit,  but not aviation.

ICAO specifications aren’t to be sniffed at.  As a signatory, South Africa has Aeronautical Information Publications that if you search online long enough you’ll find these missives.  These used to be posted to pilots but since the Post office decided it would rather deliver its lower middle class staff easy holidays,  the CAA no longer sends these missives.  Neither does it send NOTAMS to pilots.  Which is a bit of a contradiction because NOTAM means Notice to Airmen (and women).   I loved receiving the NOTAMs in the post,  pages of warnings about airport closing,  runways being resurfaced,  hangars being moved,  tests being conducted.  Now I read it on the hangar notice board when awaiting my flight from CDC Aviation at Lanseria.

Countries are supposed to update AIP’s every 28 days,  which continues to happen in South Africa so I’ve not doubt that the ICAO inspectorate will tick that box.  But that’s not all folks.  ICAO standardises various items in aviation such how to define atmosphere which is at the heart of flying.  Gauges and instruments need to be calibrated according to pressures, temperatures,  density, viscosity and altitude (and a few others we won’t mention here).  Wrong calibration can be terminal.   It also codes airports.  For example Lanseria is FALA and King Shaka in Durban is FALE.   Just to slightly confuse the reader,  there’s another bunch called IATA which has a separate code for FALE which is DUR.  For Durban.  Which is actually iThekweni.

ICAO is also responsible for Aircraft registration.  So tonight, for example,  I’m flying ZS-CTP which is the “tail number” of a Cirrus SR20 aircraft.  Next time you’re bounding onto a plane between A and B,  jot down the code on the tail and search online for its date of purchase, general maintenance issues, and use FlightRadar24 to check its flights over the last week for free.   I look forward to ICAO stamping South Africa free and fair to fly, then having a couple of free margaritas courtesy of South African Civil Aviation Authority Director, Poppy Khoza before jetting back to ICAO-land satisfied with our systems.

If not,  it could mean more than a slap on the wrist.  Out of interest,  the last time the USA had a safety audit was in 2008,  which seems a bit odd as its one of the busiest zones in the world.

SA_USA_icaoAs you can see from the audit results,  while South Africa lags the USA in planning specifically with regard to accidents,  we’re not that far off the world’s empire state.  Long may we remain of high standards as you and I clamber aboard our trusty composite steeds and are whisked hither and thither.






A note about safety – how performance dipped 40% this summer.

The CAA has distributed a note from the commissioner Poppy Khoza warning about the rate of accidents at the start of 2014.  Twelve accidents in January alone, and 10 in February – 20 people are dead both crew and pax. While I read the page feeling somewhat disturbed,  there was something in the public relations exercise that was pretty clear.  Are the plethora of training institutions operating out of smaller airfields featuring low hour instructors?  Or is the latest crop of pilots  gung ho? Are we now producing pilots who’re useless?

Too busy trying to survive to be Gung Ho. A lesson from history.  WWII female pilots.
Too busy trying to survive to be Gung Ho. A lesson from history. WWII female pilots.

Or something instrinsic to all of our experiences – the weather? We have had by all accounts an extremely  hot and dry summer.  In fact, in parts of the north west of South Africa,  a drought.  That may have all ended with the low pressure system overhead right now,  however for most of this Summer it has been blazing.  And many  of the incidents have occured at altitude.

In some cases,  performance levels of aircraft have been reduced by almost 40%. CDC aviation for example, where I fly the Cirrus,  issued a safety update to all pilots – caution.  Hot and High.

The density altitude was, on some days,  over 8500 feet!  The ground roll doubled as Lanseria is already fairly high at 4400.   The Cirrus 20 is no plane to muck around in when it comes to peformance and retardation. Combine that with a propensity to fly slow and low,  and disaster awaits.  Particularly in tight turns.  Particularly taking off and landing.  And that’s where, as usual,  most of these incidents this year have taken place.

Poppy is also fingering another fact.  The majority of accidents since 2006 feature pilots with fewer than 500 hours. That be me. But hold on.. lets take a closer look at a few more bits of data.  The CAA says its now going to concentrate on categories of pilot responsible for most accidents.  Many would say there’s overwhelming evidence to say the category of pilot who breaks the rules would be at the top of the list.

Really, really hot and extremely high.  Time for the turbo.
The Atacama. Really, really hot and well, extremely high. Time for the turbo.

Are you aware of the temperature and the reduced pressure and density altitude?  Do you know what that’s going to do to your aircraft?  Particularly in a turn?  What’s the new stall speed? The CAA says its going to look at some sort of induction programme for trainee pilots.  Well, sounds good.  But who’s going to induct? There aren’t enough CAA officials to inspect runways, let alone go through the thousands of would-be trainee pilots.   Who gets to induct the inductees?  Is there an FAA process?  Apparently yes. But back to our accident rate.

Thanks to the US Coast Guard for this pic of the CAPS system for Cirrus working.
Thanks to the US Coast Guard for this pic of the CAPS system for Cirrus working.  It may have been hot, but it wasn’t high.

Still, the fact remains – in early 2014 aviators took themselves out at the greatest rate in a decade.  No escape from that cruel reality. Are pilots becoming glorified pen-pushers who are forced to spend more of their cash paying for books and the ever-more-expensive exams than actually flying an aeroplane? Take the real cost of flying since 2009.  While income levels have largely languished, the cost of av gas has climbed from under R8.00 to R18.47 per litre.  That’s more than 200%.  Which means for pilots who aren’t part of SAA’s glorified BEE scheme arnd receive the taxpayers subsidy or don’t have mommy and daddy’s millions, its tough to put in the bare minimum which should be around two hours a week. And when the temperature rises above 32 and you’re now taking off from the African version of the Alps – beware.