Friday, July 12, 2024

Doubts over Air Botswana’s ability to handle landing emergencies

Even as national carrier Air Botswana (AB) down plays the Wednesday evening incident in which its BP032 flight failed to land at Maun airport on at least three occasions on account of extremely bad weather on the back of heavy rainfall , regular passengers are beginning to question the airline industry’s safety preparedness to deal with potential eventualities.

However the passengers turn out to be, industry experts have also added a word of caution that the national carrier should begin to put emphasis on the safety of their passengers lest they regret when it is rather too late. The same sentiments are being echoed by some engineers with the airline who are not authorized to speak to the press on issues of safety aboard the carrier’s aircraft.

It is feared on the whole that if such incidents are not curbed, they may in the future culminate in unprecedented catastrophes. The incidents are being likened to a volcano that is about to erupt.

For the passengers aboard the aircraft, BP032 from Gaborone en route to Maun on that Wednesday evening, it was a frightening and harrowing experience that will forever remain etched in their memories.

Narrating the harrowing experience, one of the passengers who preferred not to be named cast doubt on the safety of the country’s skies and AB’s readiness to deal with incidents of this nature and avert potential eventualities. In his view, the airliner should have known in advance before the aircraft took off that that there was an imminent danger of encountering landing problems on account of bad weather.

He said the journey on the day was smooth after take-off at 15:30 until around 18:50 when the aircraft started descending into the Maun airport. In his lay view, the aircraft descended somewhat normally before suddenly and on full throttle ascended back into the sky where it hit a turbulent storm that shook all on board.

“It is at this point in time that the captain, a certain Mmopi, inaudibly informed us that he was unable to land on account of the bad weather and would, therefore, make another attempt at landing.

The second attempt, proceeded by a violent turbulent, also failed. Everybody on board was now screaming. The pilot informed us that he was diverting to Francistown Airport for emergency landing. However, at Francistown there were no fuelling and lighting facilities. It was at this stage that he said because he had enough fuel, he was returning to Gaborone,” said the aggrieved passenger.

To add salt to injury, upon arrival in Gaborone, there was no senior officer on the ground to meet the shaken passengers save a desk officer who said arrangements would be made for the flight to return to Maun at 22:00 hours.

The passenger said some of the people who were on board abandoned the journey while others waited for the second trip which almost suffered a similar fate as the first landing had to be aborted while the second attempt became successful.

The distraught passenger wondered why the senior officials at the airline allowed the aircraft to take off in the first instance when they were aware of the heavy rainfall in Maun. In his view, the best thing that could have been done was to cancel the flight immediately as reasons for such cancellation would have been valid.

He also wondered why Francistown airport does not have the facilities that it should provide like fuelling or bowsing of fuel to the aircraft or sufficient lighting to afford a safe landing given that the recent expansion of the airport that came at great cost to the tax payer had created a public impression that it was an improvement of the existing facilities.

“The aviation industry is cast in serious doubt over its efficiency. Maun is an important tourist destination and some of these incidents have the potential to affect the tourism industry. This just shows that the aviation industry is a disaster in waiting to explode,” said the distraught passenger who travelled on the second leg of the trip after others opted out.
Corroborating the incident, transport magnate Seabelo Tlhaselo confirmed that the flight returned to Gaborone because it was unable to land in Maun on account of bad weather.

He, however, differed on the issue of safety saying, in his view, all safety measures had been applied.

Tlhaselo said it was raining in Maun hence the difficulties that were encountered. “There was nothing wrong with AB. Our safety was not compromised. I am happy at the way the crew handled the situation. I was not disappointed and I cannot complain. The only inconvenience is that we ended up arriving later than scheduled because of the bad weather. The crew tried its best in the trying circumstances,” said Tlhaselo.

The incident was also confirmed by AB spokesperson, Thabiso Leshoai, who said the northern part of Botswana has been experiencing very heavy rains in the past couple of days that resulted in a significant amount of cloud in the region.

He explained that in aviation, there are minimums that determine whether or not landing can be made with the persistence of cloud cover.

“At Air Botswana, our minimums are set at 800 feet of cloud cover to execute a safe landing.
Anything lower than 800 feet presents a challenge. On this day, the cloud cover was lower than 800 feet, making it impossible for a safe landing. As a precaution, the captain of the flight made a decision to hold over on landing and circle above Maun until the cloud cover went up. Unfortunately this did not happen, with the cloud cover going lower during the landing hold-over period,” said Leshoai.

He added that the captain then made a decision to make an alternative landing in either Kasane or Francistown but unfortunately Kasane airport does not have runway lights and does not support night landing and because of the rains, the lights at Francistown airport were off as well.

“The next logical option in this case was the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA) in Gaborone, which was able to support a safe landing and the opportunity to refuel the aircraft. After refuelling at SSKIA, the flight was able to take off and made a safe landing in Maun on the same evening,” said Leshoai, adding that throughout the period, on-board announcements were made to inform the passengers of what was going on.

He, however, did not shed light on why the passengers were not met by senior airline officials at SSKIA.


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