South African aviation safety has come under the microscope as parliament moves to ensure air crashes and incidents are independently investigated.
Editor of African Pilot magazine Athol Franz has said that the accident and incident investigation division (AIID) responsible for air crash investigations shared offices with the South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) in Midrand, and its investigators were paid by the regulator.
According to Sacaa website, the AIID, which “investigates accidents and incidents to determine the probable causes of such accidents”, will continue to be part of the Sacaa administratively.
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Aviation expert Phuthego Mojapele agreed that the AIID was not entirely independent in that it had no direct funding, although it was accountable to the Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula and its funding was allocated monthly through Sacaa.
“This is the situation that the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill seeks to correct, so that the investigations entity is brought into par with other state entities like Prasa [Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa], Sanral [South African National Roads Agency] and others that are accountable to parliament,” he said.
Mojapele said currently the AIID’s monthly budget was funded by the department of transport through Sacaa.
“The unit’s independency is not in question, but it is the accountability part of it that is problematic and that is what the current parliamentary process is seeking to achieve,” Mojapele said.
But SA Flyer magazine editor Guy Leitch said the unit was not properly independent as they were not able to set up a payroll, retirement funding scheme or medical aid.
He said Sacaa provided for the AIID and this had not been an issue until now as there had been no conflict of interest until the crash of the (Sacaa) citation aircraft in George last year.
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“Now it is coming into clear focus, their procrastination, their delay in making a true independent division is now
going to bite them because clearly there were no safety standards,” he said.
“Any investigation of the crash will have bad implications for the [Sacaa] … they have known about this problem
for at least seven years because it has been a finding.”
Leitch said it made sense that the unit should be separate to prevent negligence and friendliness between certain aviation organisations.
He said the lack of independence has been a serious accusation.
The accusation against America’s Federal Aviation Administration, that they were too cosy with aircraft manufacturer Boeing, demonstrated the need for an independent agency and why the Americans had the National Transportation Safety Board, a US investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation.
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Sacaa spokesman Kabelo Ledwaba said no country would allow their aircraft to enter SA airspace without the country meeting international aviation safety standards.
“Moreover, no SA-licenced personnel, operator or aircraft, would be allowed to conduct business in other countries.
“A dysfunctional regulatory system means no access to other countries’ airspace and, in fact, the international community would be quick to impose bans against SA operators and their licence holders,” he said.
The parliament portfolio committee on transport on Tuesday kicked off the public hearings on the amendment of the Civil Aviation Act, which seeks to amend Chapter 4 of the Act so as to make provision for the operational independence of aircraft accident and incident investigation.
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