Monday, November 29, 2021

Botswana on a wing and a prayer

Passengers of aeroplanes which are plying Botswana’s dangerous skies are flying on a wing and a prayer because the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) does not uphold safety standards ÔÇô investigations by two independent bodies have revealed.

The first report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (IACO) has placed Botswana among dangerous skies to fly and blacklisted CAAB following a routine inspection two months ago.

Another investigation by the Ministry of Transport and Communications has revealed that CAAB is disregarding safety standards and putting lives of plane passengers at risk. The report painted the picture of the country’s aviation sector as a disaster waiting to happen. It castigated CAAB for issuing dispensations to airfields that do not meet required safety standards. The issuing of such dispensations allows higher performance aircrafts to be operated at airfields that have marginal safety levels. “When this is coupled with extreme weather conditions in Botswana and financial pressure from operators, the environment became conducive for an accident to happen,” reads the report.

The report further reveals that CAAB operational staff complement based in Maun were newly recruited and inexperienced; most of them acknowledged that they had not been formally inducted into Flight Safety Division and were not sure what was to be expected of them.

It further emerges in the report that Moremi Air Services, the airline that owned the plane that crashed in the Okavango Delta in 2011, killing nine tourists, was operating flying coffins with a shocking safety record, but was still certified to fly passengers by the CAAB.

The report compiled by the Ministry’s Directorate of Accident Investigations, a copy of which has been passed to the Sunday Standard states that CAAB “was aware of the high accident rate at Moremi Air Services but did not take definitive action to deal with the problem.”

CAAB was aware that Moremi Air Services had several incidents and of which the latest two were maintenance related.┬á“At that time, the two accidents in question were still being investigated; CAAB had no reason of giving unsubstantiated excuse for renewing the AOC. It was apparent that the CAAB’s supervision of Moremi Air Services was not given due prominence and seriousness it deserved, hence compromising safety in the process,” says the report.

The report states that Moremi Air Services had submitted company manuals amendments in February 2011by email but until the time of the occurrence, these amendments had not been reviewed by CAAB nor had they been approved although CAAB had acknowledged receipt of the documents.“This was a clear indication that the CAAB did not perform the oversight functions entrusted within the organisation to the required standards.

“Inspection of the available company documents with CAAB revealed that after a series of accidents at Moremi Air Services, the CAAB renewed their Air Operator’s Certificate on the premise that the causes of these accidents were due to technical problems,” states the report.

It was apparent, the report states, that the CAAB’s supervision of Moremi Air Services was not given due prominence and seriousness it deserved, hence compromising safety in the process. The report also found that inadequate safety culture and lack of an established Safety Management System within Moremi Air Services was to blame for the accident.

It also emerged that CAAB allowed aircrafts to use the Xaxanaka airfield (where the accident occurred) even though they were aware that it did not meet safety standards and was “dangerous.”

CAAB also approved operation of aircraft at Xaxanaka airfield while fully aware that there were tall trees on either side of the airfield.

“Even when the Department of Wildlife and National Parks abandoned the project of moving the airfield to another location there was no documented comments or intervening recommendations from the CAAB,” says the report.

This “was a clear indication that the CAAB did not perform the oversight functions entrusted within the organisation to the required standards” states the report.

The 70-page report states that “the tall trees at Xakanaka were a known problem both to the owners (Department of Wildlife and National Parks) and the regulatory authority (CAAB).

Operations at the aerodrome continued despite the fact that both Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the then Department of Civil Aviation (now CAAB) were all aware of the potential danger to the aircraft and passengers.

“During the subsequent inspections of the airfield by the CAAB, the subject of tall trees at either end of Xaxanaka airfield was never addressed. The tall trees surrounding Xaxanaka airstrip pose a real danger to the aircraft and passengers operating out of this aerodrome,” says the report.

The obstruction caused by these tall trees does not give a pilot an opportunity of reaction time when faced with an emergency situation and trying to locate a site for crash landing.

“On the day of the occurrence, there was a greater chance that the aircraft would have been able to reach a clear area for a safer crash landing had the tall trees not been an obstruction.
The presence of tall trees at the end of Xaxanaka aerodrome contributed to the circumstances of this accident,” states the report.

The CAAB did not address the issue of tall trees at Xaxanaka during the course of several inspections carried out on the airfield. The CAAB also approved operation of aircraft at Xaxanaka airfield while fully aware that there were tall trees on either side of the airfield,” says the report.

“The presence of tall trees at the end of Xaxanaka aerodrome contributed to the circumstances of this accident. On the day of the occurrence, the pilot had transmitted that he intended to turn to the right after take-off but it was evident that after realising that the engine was failing he opted to turn to use the escape route by turning to the left to the swamps and avoid the tall trees,” says the report.

Unfortunately, the report says, the left wing clipped the branch of one of the trees and the aircraft narrowly failed to reach the open plain. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks was also not willing to remove the trees even after being advised by the Civil Aviation Authority, the findings of the reports revealed.

The report recommended, among others, that efforts by the engine and airframe manufacturers to determine the causes for in-flight engine shut downs be increased and that CAAB should also ensure that oversight of aircraft operators, aircraft maintenance bases and airfields is improved for the safe operation of aircrafts.  

It was also recommended that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks should look into the possibility of completing the relocation of Xaxanaka airfield if they are not in a position to cut the tall trees surrounding the existing airfield. Contacted for comment, CAAB spokesperson, Modipe Nkwe, said they had only seen the preliminary report and were waiting for the final report. “We have only seen the preliminary report and we are still waiting for the final report; we haven’t seen the one with recommendations. The regulator can only act on a final report,” he said. ┬áMoremi Air Services General Manager, Kelly Serole, said she had not seen the report. “I can’t comment on the report because it has not been availed to us,” she said.

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