Reader complaint: Why was plane door not closed properly?

2013-10-18 12:49
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In-flight myths busted

A few common misconceptions about flying, and why they're not true.

The airworthiness of planes flying South African passengers was recently raised in Parliament, with the Civil Aviation Authority detailing the number of Airworthiness certificates issued within the industry.

Flying is one of the safest means of travelling – with the odds of risk for passengers of commercial airlines being one in 45 million flights. According to The New York Times, a traveller could fly every day for 123 000 years and still be safe.

But imagine the scenario.

You’re settling into your flight after the nerve-wracking take-off, either avoiding the elbow jostle with your fellow passenger or contemplating whether to order a drink, when your pilot announces he has to turn the plane around because the door has not been closed properly.

This is exactly what happened with a kulula passenger last Thursday when his Durban-bound flight MN641 had to return to OR Tambo International in Johannesburg.

The reader has asked to remain anonymous but had the following to say in his email, “There was a hissing noise in the cabin and the cabin was very cold.

“The captain advised that this was due to the door not being closed properly and we had to return to OR tambo to get the door checked.

“The door was subsequently closed properly and the flight took off again.”

The reader raised the question of why on board an aircraft systems had not shown the door malfunction before take-off and whether a perfunctory approach had been taken by the ground staff concerned?

We contact kulula and the Civil Aviation Authority to find out more.

Shaun Pozyn, Marketing Manager for low cost airline kulula said, “The flight which took off just after 18:00 from Johannesburg to Durban last Thursday, had to unfortunately turn around just after take-off.

“Although the doors were properly closed, locked and secured, the sealing mechanism was slightly off and therefore the cabin could not pressurise properly, hence the reason for the aircraft turning around.”

“At no point in time were any of our customers or crew at any risk, and although the sealing was slightly misaligned, the door's locking mechanisms were all engaged and locked,” said Pozyn.

But how exactly does something like this go unnoticed.

According to the CAA, Line Engineers are responsible for releasing the aircraft for flight after the "start checklists have been completed” and that most modern airplanes have what is known as a Master Warning & Caution System. There is also Engine Indicating & Crew alerting Systems on board.

“These would warn of any abnormal system or malfunction and sometimes an impending emergency. In the case of a door not being properly closed, the Message display or Status Display would show a leak in the duct pressure or seal leak on the Door Panels. This is sometimes a gradual process rather than a sudden warning or emergency and if it’s a minor malfunction might come as a caution to the pilots,” the CAA said in an emailed response to our questions.

kulula says a full investigation has taken place and preventative steps have been implemented to ensure this does not happen again.

When the airworthiness of this aircraft was queried with Comair the operator of kulula, it said, “All aircraft operated by Comair have a valid Certificate of Airworthiness (CofA).  This is renewed annually by Comair at the SACAA. An aircraft is not permitted to fly if it does not have a valid CofA and SAA Technical can only declare the aircraft serviceable for commercial flight, if there is a valid CofA’.” 

Have you had any safety issues while travelling? Tell us about it by emailing

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