Air Botswana has been accused of risking lives of passengers during the festive season by using the Francistown airport although its landing navigation system had broken down.
The Botswana Civil Aviation Authority’s Public Relations Officer, Puna Serati, confirmed this week that “since the 25th of last December, the navigation system, or the Very High frequency Omni Directional Radio Range VOR, has been out of order and was only repaired on the 11th of January.”
The Francistown airport does not have an Instrument Landing System (ILS) and so pilots rely on the VOR (VHF omnidirectional radio range) radio beacon signals.
Serati explained that it took time to repair the VOR because the suppliers who are based in South Africa were on holidays. Soon after the VOR was out of order, air line operators were fully notified about the problem. She said although the diverse was out of order, there were Air Botswana flights that were using the Francistown airport in violation of aviation rules, which the authority admits was “risky.”
Under the aviation rules, commercial flights are barred from using airports when their diverse or its back- up system is faulty because that would endanger passengers’ lives.
Air Botswana acting general manger, Godfrey Khupe, tried to play down the risk passengers were exposed to, saying piloting by the eye is “acceptable and safe for commercial flights” if there is no overcast.
“Visual approach landings are acceptable and safe for commercial aircrafts if airport is not overcast; if visual approach is not possible, aircraft will turn back,” he said as he shrugged off suggestions that his airline put passengers’ lives at risk.
Sunday Standard investigations have, however, turned up information that landing on airports with a faulty VOR is risky even when the sky is not overcast.
Mid last year, Flight 8U771, en route from Johannesburg, was attempting to land at Tripoli International at about 6 a.m. local time when it crashed about 900 m. short of the runway, killing all but one of the 104 passengers and crew aboard. It is reported that although the sky was not overcast and the visibility was 6 km, the aircraft suffered a final-approach crash landing because the VOR was faulty.
Serati stated that the aviation authority will investigate what led to the breakdown of the newly installed VOR.
The non- performance of navigation system nearly got Botswana airports to be blacklisted by IATA two years ago. That prompted government to upgrade airports and navigation systems across the country.