SAA rescue practitioners slam 'exaggerated' reports of blunder on Brussels vaccine pick-up

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A full investigation is being conducted by the SAA Safety Department.
A full investigation is being conducted by the SAA Safety Department.
Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images

SAA business rescue practitioners (BRPs) have slammed as "exaggerated and inaccurate" reports of an alleged safety incident involving one of the airline's flights late in February. 

The flight, which was headed to Brussels and set to collect a consignment of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines on 24 February, reportedly was at risk of a so-called "alpha floor" event due to the airline's crew allegedly miscalculating the plane's take-off weight. 

South Africa's aviation industry regulator is investigating the incident. 

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the BRPs dismissed earlier media reports. 

Joint business rescue practitioner Siviwe Dongwana said the flight, SA4272, was leaving from Johannesburg to travel to Brussels when "a pending alpha floor" was signalled.

According to Dongwana, an alpha floor is a predictive low-speed protection system that automatically engages the auto thrust prior to pitch protection in anticipation of a stall. 

"In this instance, the pilots identified the symptoms prior to an impending alpha floor and took appropriate corrective action. It was the appropriate actions of the flight crew that prevented any further warnings. The aircraft continued with its acceleration profile, and continued on to Brussels," Dongwana said.  

"A full investigation is being conducted by the SAA Safety Department in line with its approved Safety Manual. The SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) was notified and, as required, SAA is cooperating with the SACAA with their enquiries into the matter.

"Once the investigation has been completed, and SAA has identified the reasons for this event, the airline will implement the identified appropriate systemic remedial actions which may address any deficiencies in the organisational system."

According to Dongwana, it would be irresponsible to speculate before the investigations are completed as to why the warning was signalled.

The SACAA has denied allegations that it provided SAA with "special treatment" following the incident.

Mashudu Raphetha, general secretary of Dynamic People's Union of South Africa (DYPUSA) - a newly-formed union in the aviation industry - similarly said the the "so-called incident" was being exaggerated, but argued that racism was at play due to a lack of diversity among SAA pilots.

The incident was being blown out of proportion because the flight was operated by non-white pilots, he said, adding that most of the pilots on that flight are members of DYPUSA and have among them more than 20 years of experience.

"I want to appeal to all pilots - black and white - to ensure that SAA restarts its operations as soon as possible," said Raphetha.

* This article was updated with Raphetha's comment.

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