MH370 report wraps up but ghosts remain

Most likely area containing the remains of MH370 – ATSB

Its been a frustrating three years searching for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board.   What is apparent is that the mystery which at times had conspiracy theorists leaping about blaming the American Air Force, aliens and cockpit fires,  is that we just know nothing about what happened.


I’m not a relative of anyone on board,  but had this been the case, the terrible almost transfixingly macabre disappearance surely would have driven me to a visit to the Malaysian embassy in South Africa with photographs and demands.

In Australia,  the Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reported on Tuesday 3 September “The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found.”


Of course.

But it has to be said.  Yet there are clues and we’ve perused these closely.

  1.  Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had simulated a similar route on his Flight Simulator at home.  It’s not a normal route.  It’s not like he was practicing for some emergency.  His simulating featured a flight almost exactly like the one the plane is believed to have taken before disappearing.
  2. The flight characteristics were those only a highly experienced pilot could have managed in the circumstances.  The plane nosed over and dived towards the ocean and then was flared back 180 degrees and more than 30 000 feet below where the dive began.  No beginner here.
  3. The trajectory of the plane took it at low altitude and therefore conducive to radar avoidance,  over Malaysia, then northern Indonesia, then South west into the deep Indian Ocean.  Why?  To avoid  detection.
  4. The point at which communication failure occurred was precisely at the point the pilot switched channels between Malaysia and Vietnam.  The person who switched off the transponder at that point as well as ACARS and other systems was not only proficient,  but had to be seated within seconds of the captain reporting the handover point to the Malaysians. In other words, the pilot or first officer.

I’ve written about this for three years and cannot, as the Australian’s have pointed out, prove anything until the plane is located.

Aircraft engine ping zone

But you don’t have to be an aviator to understand that there are some glaring issues which the authorities cannot begin to address.  It all looks highly suspicious and the suspicion falls upon the Captain of the aircraft.  I’m not going to say anything further because he too has family and no-one likes a wiseguy from another country thumb-sucking facts.

Still, let’s address facts we do have.  It’s the most expensive search effort for any aircraft, is the largest and crosses many seas.  It began in the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea and then shifted to the Indian Ocean off Australia.

The aircraft was last detected by radar in the Strait of Malacca and in the Andaman Sea.  The engines of the Boeing 777-200ER sent ping messages to the Inmarsat communications network.   Between October 2014 and January this year a massive survey was conducted of 120,000 km2 of sea floor south-west of the Australian coast.


Several pieces of the plane have washed up in Africa and Indian Ocean islands such as Reunion where the flaperon was found in July 2015

The ATSB says  “It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era… for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board.”

It’s 440 page report also says:
“The underwater search has eliminated most of the high probability areas yielded by reconstructing the aircraft’s flight path and the debris drift studies conducted in the past 12 months have identified the most likely area with increasing precision,” it said.

But the money has run out.

The US has offered to bet more involved but Malaysia is now moving away from accepting any further searches for the plane.  While Kuala Lumpur instituted live tracking of its aircraft,  there’s still the fact that 239 people are gone.  And no-one knows where.

Still, there is a slight glimmer of light about all of the above.  Flight MH370 emphasised  to the reasonably minded public that its unacceptable to live in a world where you can attack a little piece of rubber to your arm that tracks you around a bicycle track but where the latest commercial airliner could not be tracked in real time.  Something about it costing $20m per year.   Airliners have put profit before logic.   That’s not a sustainable situation where I can lodge a chip in a local lion and then follow it around on my iPhone from Jamaica but SAA’s chairperson of the board can’t find her Boeing while she’s actually sitting on it.

The Boeing I mean.

Flight Voice Recorder – in future ICAO wants these to float.

So the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted new standards for aircraft position reporting over open ocean, also extended recording time for the voice recorder, and forces new aircraft sold from 2020 to ensure that the flight recorder ends up floating when planes are submerged.


Grace Mugabe Immunised Diplomatically As Air Zim & SAA Trade Tits-for-Tats


Credo Mutwa remains an enigma.  Read  “Indaba, my Children” read it twice,  read it thrice.  The folk tales he tells envelop the mind like the determined vapors of a Musina night,  the heat of his thoughts whip us into a feverish state.   There are grand stories where the Zimbabweans or Monomatapas (sometimes Mnunumetara or even Mutapa) crossed the Limpopo to lift a few thousand head of cattle and a couple of maidens from the silly South Africans who’re always floundering in the wake of these ancient warriors.  There’s clashes,  wars, heroes, exculpation, extirpation, exultation.

Then there’s Air Zimbabwe vs South African Airways,  Grace Mugabe and the Sons of Chaos.

A bit like the David and Goliath saga except Air Zim in this instance is a furtive David without the grand garlands.    Air Zim was ordered to remain on deck at OR Tambo last week pending an investigation into why it’s international flight documents were missing.

            Tweets at the weekend were a riot.

So Zim authorities promptly ordered an SAA plane grounded in Harare on Saturday 19th August as a tit-for-tat diplomatic sport kicked into gear,  everyone swathed in self-righteous bandanas and quoting from the excerpted copies of Marx, Engels,  Mao and uncle Robert’s cabin treatise on mucking with your neighbours.

Pity the old man never read Mr Mutwa.


Not as romantic as the great battle on the Limpopo one thousand years ago that featured deadly combat and dragons,  but iconic and just as effective and from the playbook.

There’s not a one way thing going on here,  and its been like that since modern humans arrived in Southern Africa.   This constant barrage of turmoil now has an aviation edge,  this competition between a Zimbabwean empire clinging onto its final vestiges of post-colonial radicalism and concocted self-importance versus the new post-colonial nexus where corrupt propositioning has redeployed honesty.

And all taking place on two airport aprons.  OR Tambo, where four hundred meters of apron tarmac sees more valuable aviation airframe in one day than Harare’s dilapidated dusty apron sees in more than a year.  Make that five years.  So who wins in this show- down at the ORT Coral?

Harare of course, at least initially.  It’s a bit like Honduras fighting the USA.  But funnier to watch unless you’re stranded in Zimbabwe.

“Long ago in a land far, far away, there lived a prince and his princess.  Then aviation came along and saved his princess from the naughty South African ‘model’. ”

Because facing Harare is a Pretoria which has lost its compass, GPS and sense of courage, its political map is frayed.   The aviation sector in South Africa has recently been awarded a stamp of excellence by the International Civil Aviation Organisation,  whereas Zimbabwe isn’t even on the safety map.  Yet Harare would order Pretoria around like a shepherd whistling at his sheepdog and its partly about an ex-typist who’s called Grace.

At the same time politically,  Zimbabwe shambles amiably towards the looming demise of its post-colonial demigod,  while in South Africa the country staggers having taken a number of blows to the ideological solar plexus courtesy of a leader who’s moral compass swings like a drunken bull’s privates.

In the meantime,  South Africans trying to get home were stranded, and a large proportion of those were businessmen and women.  Ironically, government officials too.  Zim government officials who jetted off to the big smoke for a little RnR at the weekend SADC Summit were delayed along with their piggly wiggly bags .

Simultaneously,  Grace Mugabe who was accused of using an extension chord as a dangerous weapon at an upmarket Johannesburg hotel,  then allowed herself to be whisked home by air (and by her cranky old man) after she was immunised diplomatically.

In Credo Mutwa’s world Grace would be a shape shifting owl,  swift at night and feared by the righteous,  witch-like and Robert would be her dark cloaked malignant factotum, wrinkled and weasled like the fading stem of a poisonous tropical plant.    They’ve been force to leave their two lovely sons behind in Johannesburg for Metro police to deal with the next time they’re having a couple of Chivas Regals in public.

Reminds me of that paragraph in “Indaba my Children” :

Then there were Ziko and Majozi, who were brothers and who jointly commanded the regiment, The Night Owls. They were a youthful pair of hard-drinking, hard-loving and hard-fighting hotheads, also famed as great singers and story-tellers who had composed long verses in praise of Malandela.

The singer bit remains moot,  so too the story-teller bit.  Whereas the stories today in Johannesburg and Harare remain exclusively focused on their mom who’s married to a  man who’s an eviscerated shadow of the great Malandela and used a very modern form of flight to flee.






The Russian, the German, the Brit & a Blues Brother

Me and Abraham’s nut.   After arriving in the US following my Frankfurt experience.  Dressed in appropriate Blues Brother attire.
I flew to the US in June which is now but a distant memory except for the security search at Frankfurt airport before clambering on board a United Airlines flight to New York.  The names of the accused were blasted over the tannoy for all to hear.

“Mr Suddick”

“Mr Abraham”

“Mr Ludwillow”

“Mr Latham”

So let me describe the process.  After clambering off an SAA plane in Frankfurt at 06h00 local time we were due to fly out to the USA at 08h00 local.  We hurried to the airport train (automated) and arrived at terminal B from whence United flies.  After the obligatory cup of coffee,  you are checked in and a coloured sticker attached to your ticket.  Which remains untorn – no stubs here.

Then various names are called as mentioned above.  and mine came up.  I heard that only Muslims or suspicious people were asked to step forward (at least that’s what my well traveled friends have alleged), so what’s this then?

A White House Secret Service Agent.  Much friendlier than the Russian, the German and the Brit at Frankfurt Airport.
Perhaps its because I’m from Africa I thought.  Clearly suspicious.   This is where the story gets a tad interesting at least in terms of process.  So after joining the short queue of the highly suspicious/possible terrorist/dangerous/uncouth etc etc,  a man with a Russian accent asks me if I’m indeed “Dazemoond Lat-ham”


‘Please wait there” he motions to a seat in full view of the 300 passengers about to board United Airlines.   Most are trying not to look in my direction unless the security guards haul them in too.   My nearest and dearest is sitting near the wifi/power charging desks charging her phone and laptop and also not appearing to stare.  She carries a passport with her maiden name so we’re not easily coupled,  if you excuse the phrase.

Welcome to the USA, Mr Dazemoond Lat-ham
The Russian appeared just bored enough to be both careless and malignant.  You know those languid security people who have one ear-hole larger than the other from a lifetime of wearing a hands free VIP bodyguard kit.  In a small cubicle I could see a man removing his shoes and being subjected to some kind of body search with a strip of plaster.

Then it was my turn after a few minutes.    The Russian waved at me and said “your turn” which felt a little like being asked to join the bungee jump line without a safety harness.

Inside the cubicle there were three men.  They all scrutinised me as I entered their little chamber,  watching I thought, for any sign of weakness then they’d pounce. One of the three was  dressed in browns and fawn clothing with a black belt and he turned to me.

I tensed,  waiting for the usual aggro bodyguard VIP security man fusillade.

“Hey, you look like one of the Blues Brothers”  he said, and smiled.

I dress in a black suit when traveling and wear a black hat bought in Boston in 2000.  It’s real wool and with the black tie, I usually am left alone on flights because people think I’m either a businessman or a rabbi.   It’s the first time in years of traveling in this mode that someone has said anything about the Blues Brothers who are indelibly etched in all our minds – us 80’s people.

The Harlem Blues Project live at BB’s Bar and Grill in Manhattan.  I was in awe and sat right at the front where you sit when you want to learn stuff.
“Well I do play the blues” I said.

“You look like you do” he answered in a German accent.  He took my shoes and waved his sticky plaster over it.  Then he pulled the plaster down my clothes.  I guessed he was looking for signs of explosives.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

Then he suddenly turned back into the cold VIP bodyguard and ignored me,  his friend said:

“You can go”

In a British accent.

My ticket now had an extra sticker on the back which the air crew peered at with great interest when I clambered on board the A380.  My nearest had taken up a seat as far away as possible (well she was on the other side of the aisle) so I asked the lovely person next to me if she’d swap seats with Nearest/Dearest.

Somewhere over America.  United Airlines.
She would.

Nearest wasn’t so happy,  she’d swapped an aisle seat for a middle seat.

“Never mind dear” I said

“At least you’re sitting next to a world famous blues musician.”

She ignored that and went to sleep.









SAA, Dudu “Fast Asleep” Myeni & Visigoths

South African Airways is up a creek.  With a financial paddle that is you and I aka the taxpayer.  Circling above in a banking holding pattern are creditors.  It doesn’t really matter what Dudu “Fast Asleep” Myeni thinks, its what’s going to happen to her that is a True Story.  Because the reality is our national carrier is no longer considered a going concern.  By it’s own Board.

This has fiduciary implications for Myeni and her chommie Jacob “hehehehehehe” Zuma.   While she appears to have high friends in places,  this is only a fleeting moment of safety.  Because coming soon at a SAA movie house near you is liquidation.  No amount of spin doctoring is going to save the national airline, only a sudden and significant change in operations will do that, along with another beefy bailout.


That’s not going to happen while Myeni cocks a snook at Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene.   So she has to go.

The SAA Board Submission which you’re not supposed to see but is easily and readily available online – here – describes a very serious financial condition.

The essence of the finding is that SAA is no longer a going concern.  Worse still,  the submission describes a business being conducted recklessly.

That’s bad.  Very bad.  It’s a disaster for the present executive.

Our national Airline is suffering from reckless trading.  Technically, creditors who’re owed billions could use Section 131 (1) of the Companies Act to apply for a court order placing SAA under supervision and to begin business rescue.

SAA does not meet the solvency and liquidity test required to continue operating as a going concern.  Solvency relates to the assets of the company exceeding liability,  and liquidity means the company can pay its debts over 12 months.   It may pass the solvency test, but its failed the liquidity exam.

The Board Submission notes:

“Based on the reliance on a going concern guarantee and the inability for the auditors to sign off on the annual financial statements, SAA has been and remains technically insolvent.  Accordingly, SAA is financially distressed and trading under insolvent circumstances.  Any further trading under the current circumstances constitutes reckless trading in terms of Section 22 of the Act.”

What this really means is two things.

  1. That SAA files for business rescue and is then protected legally or
  2. The Directors apply for liquidation on an urgent basis.

Time is of the essence.

But Myeni, what of her?  She’s hanging around meetings and refusing to co-operate.  With Finance Minister Nene firstly. That’s all going swimmingly for this walking disaster of a Chairwoman.  Zuma is protecting her back.  For now.  She’s refusing to negotiate and her edicts are ultimately self-destructive.  However, when fiduciary reality catches up with her,  she’s going to be toast.  It’s all a great game.  Then she walks away with the inevitable golden handshake.  Goodbye, you’ve been a disaster, here’s R12m.

In the meantime we live with a terminal SAA that’s slipping quickly into a financial coma while Myeni and Zuma play the giddy goat.  The Board Conclusion is noted.  It’s suggested that the following four options be considered extremely urgently:

  1. Request the shareholder inject capital.  That’s you and me folks, via the government.
  2. Finalise its decision regarding the Swap Option.  This is a very technical process, but basically SAA changed an Airbus A320-200 purchase into a Swap for other aircraft.  They’ve got to make up their minds NOW on this deal.
  3. Reach out to Airbus and try and find a way forward.  If not, court action and possible liquidation threatens.
  4. Establish a transaction team to renegotiate the Swap.  Myeni has tried to get that done through a third party – her .. umm .. friends? 

Thousands of jobs are threatened.  Staff are beginning to have an inkling about what’s going to happen.

It’s not going to be pretty,  and perhaps its time to prepare the crime scene forensic cleaning team to put on their rubber gloves, mask and full-body gown.  Wiping the blood off the walls at  SAA is going to take nerves of steel and the constitution of a Visigoth.







Catering, A Russian Sharm El-Sheikh Catastrophe & MH17

Have you ever sat in seat 33 A/B/C on a commercial airline flight?  Or D/E/F?  As far as I’m concerned, those are the best aviation seats on most local airlines.  If they allow you there in the first place.  Yes its close to the toilets at the back.  No, you can’t book these online or using the self-check at the airport.  Yes sometimes Kulula or SAA don’t open the back to allow you off first which means waiting until the slow moving pax drag their bodies out through the front door.  At times the noise increases as the crew work on preparing meals with a crash or slam of one of the metal boxes.  But I’ve found despite all of the above,  they’re the best seats, particularly the window.  And if you’re going to survive an accident, its more likely that you’re going to be sitting in the back rather than Business Class.

The trajectory of the accident with the bottom yellow stars indicating the position of the tail section.
The trajectory of the accident with the bottom yellow stars indicating the position of the tail section.

That may change with the latest revelations from the Russian airliner that went down over the Sinai with 224 people on board.  It’s known that the rear of the plane separated from the fuselage – that wreckage was found a few kilometres away from the main body at the weekend.  Now its being reported that Egyptian investigators are probing the company that provided on-board meals.   The food is stored just forward of the main rear bulkhead – and the main rear bulkhead sheared.

TASS reports that “A driver and employees who brought meals for the passengers of flight 9268 in the morning on October 31 are being interrogated.”  We all know that TASS has turned back into one of Moscow’s favourite propaganda engines,  but that doesn’t mean the Egyptians aren’t actually investigating this angle.

Initially a whole bunch of speculation broke out. That it was pilot error.  That one of the pitot tubes was iced and the plane speed dropped.  Or that the plane broke up when the bulkhead collapsed due to poor maintenance or a fix from a tail strike a decade ago.  The Cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder are being scrutinised at this time.

Meanwhile, the British and Irish have cancelled all flights to and from Sharm El-Sheikh.   Cairo is muttering about how this is unfair,  but they would because the military junta that now rules Egypt is set to lose more cash as tourists flee their country.   A third of Egypt’s GDP is based on tourism.

And this from the British Cabinet Office Briefing Room is most telling:

“While the investigation is still ongoing we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed. But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.”

May well?  That’s diplomat speak for its the probably cause.

The Daily Express in the UK reports that :

“.. cockpit recordings from the Russian jet emerged last night, with Russian reports suggested “uncharacteristic noises” had been recorded, although the pilots had failed to issue a mayday call.”

Well when you’re trying to save your life, you tend to communicate last.  Aviate Navigate Communicate is our mantra for a reason.  As pilots we’ve all been in intense situations and the last thing you do is start yapping away to ATC when you’re trying to live.  You’re hanging onto the controls and talking without using the push-to-talk, in other words,  through the on-board intercom.

And Daesh or the so-called Islamic State claimed it was responsible for bringing down the plane.  But their propaganda video showed radicals allegedly using some kind of missile which is highly improbable.  It’s more likely that they just jumped on the bandwagon.

US radar shows a flash at the point at which the plane began breaking apart which could be from fuel exploding, but also could be from a small device on board which blew up, shearing off the tail and leading to the catastrophe.  It’s too early to tell.  One thing is for sure.  Could it be that the Russians would rather see the real facts emerge from an airliner that crashed?  Unlike their prevarication over the MH17 disaster where the Eastern Ukrainian rebels appear to have mis-identified a Malaysian commercial airliner as a Ukrainian bomber and shot it down.   There Moscow has bent over backwards defending the actions of its Eastern Ukrainian allies.

It’s one of life’s cruel ironies.  In my last blog I indicated that if I was a Russian Intelligence officer,  I would be very concerned about my citizens and my officials after the recent revelations about MH17 and the Ukrainian rebels.  Then if I had relatives who went down on board MH17 and was feeling motivated by revenge,  the target of my hatred would probably be either Russian,  or Eastern Ukrainian.   Or both.

Did a Malaysian or someone else get even with the Russians by bringing down the Airliner over the Sinai? Security at Sharm El-Sheikh is notoriously lax.  Particularly apron security.

Please, what a conspiracy theory!

Stupid even to suggest, no?





The Black Dog, Aviation & Andreas Lubitz

The recriminations have begun after the Germanwings disaster.  Lufthansa may be in a spot of bother here,  but they’re not alone.  This terrible accident has brought a few things into relief, including how the aviation industry is governed and the rules and regulations that absorb our time as we think about flying.  But what are some of the other facts in this macabre and terrifying story?

Andreas Lubitz, who is thought to have flown 150 people to their deaths aboard Germanwings Flight 9525, would not have been allowed to fly as an airline pilot in the US or South Africa for that matter.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 11.23.44 AM

His total hours (pilot in control) at the time of death were slightly more than one third the minimum needed for a US Airline Transport Rating.  PIC its called.  Instead he was loaded with PICUS – Pilot In Control Under Supervision.  That’s where you’re in the left seat (where the Captain sits) with an instructor in the right who may not touch the controls.  As soon as they do – the PICUS time is “demoted” to DUAL time.   Guess what.  Most of these PICUS hours really do have moments where the instructor helps the PICUS.  It’s a bit of a grey area…

Looking through the culture of pilots over at least 50 years there’s on distinct trait that emerges that you really want from your Captain flying Kulula through the tail of a thunderstorm.

Survival Instinct.  Built on real-time experience and thousands of hours as a pilot. Alone.  Or honing their skills as an instructor for five years, watching others make mistakes and improving their own knowledge constantly.

Using his/her basic brainpower and thinking to outwit fate and survive.

And that should include the First Officer.  There’s such a dirth of this sort of pilot,  that airline companies have instituted that experience/youth combo over the last 15 years.  It’s also accelerating, along with a dreadful Pay-to-Fly.  It’s PTF.  Aviation is full of acronyms. But this is one of the weirdest.  Young pilots are inducted into airlines by actually paying the airline to fly in the F/O seat in order to build hours.

Many of the world’s airlines use this nefarious employment technique.  Airlines like Ryan,  Easy and Wiz and a host of others hire really junior pilots with  only a few hundred hours. I have no idea if Germanwings was one.


You’ll all be pleased to know that SAExpress and SAA only employe pilots with 2000 hours plus and PTF hasn’t made its odious little appearance here.  Yet.

99.9% of the time, nothing bad happens in flying.  But when you hit that 0.1%, you want 10 000 hours or so combined sitting up front.  Preferably shared,  not 9500 hours and 500 for the kid.

You also DO NOT  want a First Officer who is recovering from depression after popping those suicide inducing pills and who has a measly 100 hours in supervised time on an Airbus. Like Andreas.

It may not be politically incorrect to say this,  but its just true.

One of the side effects of anti-depressants (which I have never taken mind you, I’m just reliably informed), is enduring a weaning process.  The longer you pop ’em, the worse it gets.  Why the FDA has allowed this dependency to spiral is beyond me.  The stories I’ve been hearing about what happens to your head after a year of throwing these evil ellipses down your throat are dark.

Treating mental illness is not like setting a broken bone then jumping back in the plane after six months.  The side effects of treatment can be worse than the disease.  I’ve heard a few stories of depressed pilots marriages breaking down, taking a few days off, then climbing aboard and continuing their aviation lives without a blip.   This is not the same as someone who’s being treated for chronic depression.

It’s actually mentioned over and over in training – are you mentally fit?  As pilots we’re constantly asking ourselves are we fit to fly.

  • How was the drive to the airport?
  • Did you have road rage?
  • Have you settled down?
  • How’s things at home?
  • Are you stressed about something you can’t deal with?
  • Have you had sleep?
  • Have you eaten enough?
  • Are you feeling good?
  • Is your stomach working properly?
  • Are you concentrating 100% on the job at hand?
  • Slow down, you’re moving too fast.
  • Think.
  • Have you done everything correctly?

Imagine you’re imbued with the darkness of the Black Dog.  These questions above are like a fluffy layer of impertinence when your soul is grappling with issues like

  • Should I kill myself?


  • Is this all there is to life?

We’re so babied as humans these days,  someone has to tell you how to be an adult. We gamble with the devil and hope that our sensitive little lives aren’t reported by our aviation doctor.  Or our fellow pilots.

We’re not in a war.  During WWII pilots who displayed this sort of dark edge were called mysterious, “having a death wish” and were ultimately lauded for being purveyors of the true spirit of courage.

The modern narcissistic cult of the individual has exacerbated the dangers – anonymous little twerps can somehow leap into our popular consciousness with the effortless click of a Smartphone app.

Some say aviators have the characteristics of Rottweilers obsessed with speed, sports cars, flashy partners and loads of dosh.  Others believe its possible for pilots to be kindler, gentler, nice guys and gals who are sensitive.  And can have a mental disorder, as long as its treated.

It’s a simple thing, this aviation business.  Cock it up and die.  Simple.  That’s why loads of PIC hours are needed.  So if you have a propensity for weakness,  its outed at some point in your 1200 hours before you sit in the right seat.   600 hours is not enough.

So you need to be constantly scrutinised by those who do the managing – its invasive yet  totally acceptable.  But I’ve heard from people who say it’s their private business.  Well its not. It’s not even their private business if they’re flying in some isolated area alone.

This includes being assessed for mental stability.  ANY signs of being suicidal and you HAVE to be hoiked off the flight deck.  It’s a place for curious people concentrating exclusively on allowing everyone to live by being really really motivated and utterly obsessed with safety.  Constantly.  Almost boring. You’re so good, you’re like the amazing wicket keeper who no-one notices because you’re a metronome of efficiency.

Andreas Lubitz. Source: Facebook.
Andreas Lubitz. Source: Facebook.

Don’t forget it’s the pointy end of a missile in which families are sitting.  Hundreds of people with thousands of loved ones.  The cult of the “individual is always right” and that fuzzy little idea, Outcomes Based Education, has begun to collide with reality

Sometimes your individual rights have to be put aside for the rights of the majority.

If you can’t cut it, you lose your knife.  Or everyone loses their life.

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.


11 Fearful Things, Doppler Radar & Lickspittle

Starting in January, the first fearful thing is Air Law & Operating Procedures.  Followed in no particular order by Meteorology, Flight Planning & Performance, Navigation, Instruments & Electronics, Principles of Flight, Human Performance, Aircraft Technical & General, Radio Aids & Communication.  These are all exams, good tribesmen and women of cyberania. The night Rating I hope to accomplish within two weeks, and Instrument Rating before the end of February.  That’s the last 2 of 11 Fearful Things.

Or a month an exam and is feasible – but challenging.  That’s because I’m 52.  Everything takes just a little longer to settle into my slowly atrophying memory cell, but that doesn’t mean its all bad.  In fact, my age is a kind of blessing.  Had this happened 20 years’ ago there’s no way I would be able to shoe-horn my hyper-active lifestyle into a proper aviation psyche.

While this is all very well, this is all happening as Aviation experiences one of its worst years for accidents in living memory.  Mostly concentrating in Malaysia.  MH370 remains missing somewhere (we now know) in the Southern Indian Ocean.  QZ8501 flying from Surabaya to Singapore and operated by Air Asia crashed early yesterday morning.  Wild speculation continues about the cause.

The reality is its the third major incident involving a Malaysian airliner.  The other two Malaysian aviation disasters this year involved the state-run company.  MH370 and MH17. The latter was reportedly shot down over Eastern Ukraine, apparently by Russian-backed rebels using a mobile ground-to-air missile.

So why consider taking up aviation at this point, you may ask?   I prefer to think of this in a different way.

The three Malaysian accidents are all linked to the culture of doing business in that country. If you consider how the disappearance of MH370 was mishandled by authorities you’d see a country in a curious malaise where the paternal hierarchy leads to Big Man problems inside the cockpit.  This is not my experience of aviation in South Africa. Sure there have been a couple of incidents involving corruption, but these have been rooted out and dealt with.   So far.

However, the SAA board fiasco is centred on executives.  The pilots and crew who fly are in some ways distant from these shenanigans because they don’t earn enough money to warrant some drooling ruling party connected lackey trying to steal a pilots license in order to garner a few rands in a dubious tender.  Its one thing to lie about your matric or some little BA degree from Unisa to plant your bum on a butter seat in the SABC or SAA executive, its another trying to lie your way into the cockpit of a commercial jet by flashing a bogus CV.

Ruling party connections won’t help you land a plane.  I’m waiting for some lickspittle type to try.  Then we can all watch as he or she flies straight into the granite cloud, screaming something about the aeroplane being reactionary.

Yes, the pilots are very well paid but compared to actually taking control of an executive position – its peanuts.

So we’re safe for the moment from the grandiose largesse-based bribery plaguing the upper echelons of SAA making its way directly into the cockpit.  The foot soldiers of aviation continue to ply their trade in an honest way because its just too difficult to make it all the way to captain and 10 000 hours by being “politically connected”.

These are the fine gentle-folk whom I would aspire to emulate and eventually don my commercial pilots license wings with matching flashing toothy smile.

But before leaving you, a note about in-flight Doppler Radar.  The Cirrus I plan to fly around tonight has the Garmin 1000 with a great deal of weather reading technical gadgetry.

This includes the pilot-adjustable horizontal scan angles of up to 120° allowing me to focus on trouble areas, vertical scanning which beads in on storm tops, gradients and cell buildup at various altitudes.  It also comes with Weather Attenuated Colour Highlight (or WATCH), which allows a pilot to identify areas beyond the radar’s capability that may contain even more hazardous areas of precipitation.

Garmin 1000 weather warning system.
Garmin 1000 weather warning system.

Which is all very well.  However, if you’re already at 32 000 feet and want to avoid a cumulonimbus towering to close to 50 000 feet, go around.  I’ll be tottering along at 7000 feet in a propellor driven plane and in a training area, which means I can skedaddle back to Lanseria if the weather gets bad. The Cirrus SR20 has a ceiling of 17 000 feet anyway.

So what happened to QZ8501?  Without resorting to rampant ill-informed speculation, reports from professional pilots and aviation authorities suggest the Airbus may have entered an area of extreme turbulence. Between that fact and the reality the plane has crashed, we await further information.

RIP those on board.

An SAA Airbus in the Lanseria circuit

Its not often that you get to see an Airbus doing circuits at a local airport.  The pilots aboard were really being put through their paces.  The Airbus did mostly visual landings in a tight circuit which is challenging considering the speeds.  At one point the crosswind ticked up to around 15 knots and I watched the training from my vantage point just off alpha taxiway.

A youtube video of the circuits.

That was just before a flight to Brits and Pilansberg.  I was forced to turn back as the clouds descended and visibility dropped to a thousand feet.   At one point turbulence below the ceiling was increasing and was an ideal moment to get everything set up for a rate one turn and trying to stay  on the numbers.   Cleared inbound and landed smoothly, ZS-BOR featuring audio terrain warning systems always fun!Image