Experts cite conflict of interest, CAA insists crash probe will be independent
The investigation into an air crash that killed three Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) employees outside George on Thursday will be undertaken by the authority’s own investigation unit.
This is despite calls from within the aviation industry for an independent investigation of the incident, which appears to have involved an ageing aircraft with some mechanical issues.
The CAA announced that its own investigators had been dispatched to collect evidence from the scene yesterday.
Karl Jensen, a former SAA pilot, said it was “totally inappropriate for the CAA to investigate itself”.
Captain Thabiso Tolo (49), first officer Tebogo Lekalakala (33) and Gugu Mguni (36), a flight inspector, were all killed when the CAA’s Cessna Citation crashed in a mountainous region near the Robinson Pass, close to Mossel Bay.
The aircraft, which is used for aviation inspections, disappeared around 10:40 after taking off from the George Airport to review the navigation system at the airport.
Air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft about ten minutes after it took off.
The plane, which has been used for 20 years as a calibration aircraft by the CAA, was impounded in November after smoke began pouring out of the cabin shortly before take-off at Lanseria airport.
In December, the Sunday Times reported that the aircraft had come to a halt on the runway after both back tyres burst as a result of heat generated by the emergency brakes.
An aviation expert, who spoke to Rapport on condition of anonymity, agreed with Jensen.
“In this case, the CAA is the operator of the aircraft as well as the authority responsible for establishing and maintaining the regulations governing civil aviation. In addition, it’s also the institution investigating the accident. That is a very serious conflict of interest.”
The CAA, however, said its investigation unit was entirely independent.
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“The investigation unit is accommodated at our offices, but we have no authority over it. It acts completely independently and it reports only to the department of transport,” said Poppy Khoza, CEO of the CAA.
However, a white paper on civil aviation policy, published in the Government Gazette in 2017, is also critical about the relationship between the CAA and the unit, noting that it was only intended to be an interim measure.
“As aviation investigations may well negatively implicate the CAA itself and create a conflict of interests, it is not appropriate for the function of aircraft accident and incident investigations to be conducted by the CAA on behalf of the transport department.”
Khoza said the CAA could not give any further comment on the cause of the accident. “We ask people not to speculate and to allow the investigation team to do its job,” she said.
She said the CAA was satisfied that regular maintenance work had been done on the aircraft in question.
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