Industry insiders claim that the recent Francistown plane crash accident, which killed two South African pilots, may have been caused by a defective Frequent Doppler Very High Frequency (DVOR) transmitter at the Francistown International Airport, which has been on and off since last November.
The plane crash comes months after the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) received a number of warnings that the defective transmitter was putting lives of air passengers in danger.
The aircraft was due to land at the Francistown airport for refuelling, en-route to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A source told The Telegraph that “on the day of the crash, there was fog and the transmitter was also defective, therefore, it could not read the signals from the aircraft. If the transmitter was functional, the air traffic controller could have detected an emergency and guided the pilots to crash land somewhere or have an emergency landing. The situation is very serious, especially when there is need for emergencies.”
Responding to Telegraph inquiries, CAAB spokesperson, Modipe Nkwe, confirmed that since its installation in November 2008, the transmitter has on occasions experienced technical problems. He, however, insisted that it is currently functional.
“Yes on occasions. When that had happened all necessary steps have been taken to rectify the fault(s). The latest fault happened on the 26th of June 2013,” said Nkwe.
Asked on the dangers posed by a defective transmitter to aircraft, Nkwe said that when a DVOR transmitter is not working, notices to air operators are issued in advance and that leaves the pilots to decide on whether safe landing can be made or not.
He said that where the pilot feels that they cannot land without the aid of such equipment, they are given the option to use a different airport.
“The Francistown International Airport DVOR transmitter is currently serviceable. It was installed in 2008 and has a lifespan of 10 years. The replacement of the system is due in 2018 unless if it develops serious problems assessed to require replacement,” he added.
On suggestions that the cause of the recent accident could be attributed to the malfunctioning transmitter, Nkwe denied the suggestions explaining that CAAB would not be aware as investigations are handled by the Directorate of Accident Investigation at the Ministry of Transport and Communication.
“The accident investigations are a responsibility of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, per the civil aviation Act of October 2011,” he said.
DVOR transmitter is navigation equipment used to provide aircrafts with a direction or bearing to the airport as well as aiding communication between air traffic controllers and pilots. The equipment is also used to guide pilots in the direction of the center line of the runway in the airport when landing the aircrafts.
The transmitter also helps the air traffic controllers to detect and monitor the movement of aircraft into the airport and to help pilots and air traffic controllers to efficiently react to aircraft emergencies.
Sources within the aviation industry informed The Telegraph that the constant DVOR breakdown is posing a serious safety hazard for aircraft, especially those flying from the South, South West and South East direction of the country into the airport.