SACAA appeals to Mbalula to reopen plane crash investigation, contests damning findings in report

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Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula.
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula.
Misheck Makora
  • A final report on the fatal accident of a plane operated by the SACAA was published by the transport department.
  • It contains damning findings against the SACAA.
  • The SACAA is appealing the findings and wants Fikile Mbalula to reopen the investigation. 

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is appealing to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to reopen an investigation into the fatal plane crash of a Cessna S550, operated by SACAA, in January 2020, while on a calibration mission at the George Airport.

All three crew members died when the plane flew into a mountain in inclement weather.

The report found, among other things, that the aircraft was not being operated in compliance with South Africa's Civil Aviation Regulations and Technical Standards - which the SACAA is responsible for setting, applying and enforcing - and that the pilot-in-command had not undergone required aircraft "upset recovery" refresher training in a simulator as required.

Furthermore, the SACAA's Flight Inspection Unit lacked a compliance officer at the time to manage operational oversight.  

The SACAA's mandate is to regulate civil aviation safety and security in South Africa.

READ | Damning findings on fatal crash of SA Civil Aviation plane

It said in a statement on Wednesday that it questioned the damning findings made against it in a final report by Ethiopia's Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB).

The SACAA claims it is in possession of evidence that will refute the findings.

South Africa's Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation Division (AIID) falls under SACAA and the families of the deceased believed it might be compromised if it had to investigate an incident involving a plane operated by SACAA.

Mbalula, therefore, asked the AAIB to undertake the investigation as an independent party.   

The SACAA claimed it was not given an opportunity to comment on what it regarded as "new information" in the final report, which "differ materially" from a draft report on which SACAA commented in August 2021.

The final report by the AAID, dated November 2021, was only published by the Department of Transport, under which the SACAA falls, on Sunday, 23 January. 

SACAA further claims the final report contains "gross mistakes and inaccurate references" to the Civil Aviation Regulations regarding the new findings.


The report established the probable cause of the fatal crash into a cloud-obscured mountain was the crew's failure to recognise and recover the aircraft from  an "unusual altitude" - in other words they had lost their situational awareness and the aircraft was not flying in a controlled manner.

It is likely this was the result of the aircraft flying into cloud when the crew was unprepared for it and would have needed to transition to instrument flying when they had planned to carry out the flight while remaining in visual contact with the ground at all time.  

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The report recommends several remedial measures, including stronger internal oversight within the SACAA and its Flight Inspection Unit, to avoid a recurrence.

It also recommends that, to avoid conflicts of interest, South Africa should establish an Air Accident Investigation Unit that is completely independent of the SACAA.

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