Investigations into what caused the recent air crashes in the Okavango Delta will not take anything less than twelve months. This was said by the Minister of Transport and Communications, Frank Ramsden, last week.
The first accident took place at Xakanaka Airstrip on October 14. The plane, a Cessna 208 operated by Moremi Air, crashed immediately after takeoff, killing eight of the twelve passengers on board. The four survivors included two French and two Batswana nationals.
Hardly a week later, another Cessna 206, this time owned by Delta Air Charters, overran the runway on takeoff at Delta Air strip. All the five passengers on board survived with minor injuries.
The two accidents raised concerns about the safety of local airline operators, prompting Ramsden to declare that Botswana has one of the best civil aviation safety records regionally.
“We have had only one fatal accident in the last ten years. Over 90 million kilometres have been flown by local operators in the Okavango Delta. Including the latest accident, that equates to 0.22 fatal accidents per 1 million kilometres flown. Most countries would aspire for such a safety record,” said Ramsden.
Ramsden said government adheres to international safety standards to ensure that airlines maintain the highest safety standards. He said his ministry carries out regular checkups on pilots and aircrafts.
“All pilots have to undergo proficiency tests every six months. They also undergo instrument checks every year. The CAAB carries out annual inspections on all local airlines before issuing Operators Certificates,” said Ramsden.
Local aircrafts also undergo maintenance checks every 100 flying hours while certificates of air worthiness are issued after annual checks. The CAAB also checks all air fields on a regular basis to ensure safe landing and takeoff.
An investigating team, led by an expert investigator, Aaron Kutunga, has already been set up to investigate the cause of the accident. However, indications are that the findings will only be released within twelve months.
Captain Selwyn Lloyd of the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana said a preliminary report will only be released a month after the accident. The Botswana police are also assisting with DNA testing to identify the deceased nationals.
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Government and the CAAB have rallied behind Moremi and Delta airlines, saying they cannot be taken to task as it is government’s responsibility to enforce stringent safety standards. It has also emerged that the airlines will not have to pay any compensation as the deceased were covered by flight insurance.
In the meantime, the Botswana Tourism Organisation says the crashes have not affected the reputation of Botswana as a safe tourism destination in any way. There are also no fears that the European Union will impose any sanctions against Botswana because of the crash.
The EU carries out regular independent inspections of popular tourism destinations, and then informs its citizens which countries are the safest to travel to. Botswana is not among the countries that have been blacklisted by the EU.
Such countries include Zambia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have been blacklisted because of their poor flight safety records.