SAA responds to ‘fake parts’ claims and says faulty plane experienced ‘minor jolt akin to driving through a pothole’

South African Airways has rejected claims that faulty parts are to blame for a recent malfunction of one of its airplanes, which forced the pilot to make an emergency landing.

A Sunday Times article this past week headlined “Jet scare highlights criminals in the SAA workshop” claimed that passengers on a Mango Airlines Boeing 737 flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town were left terrified after a sudden nosedive, which forced the pilot to make an emergency landing.

The malfunction was blamed on a defective part fitted at maintenance subsidiary, SAA Technical, which supplies all major maintenance for SAA.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, SAA said it had been infiltrated by an international crime syndicate that had looted hundreds of millions of rands through questionable tenders which included the supply of “possibly suspect” parts.

It added that a massive investigation involving international law enforcement and aviation regulatory authorities was underway into a sophisticated syndicate which includes senior SAA procurement executives.

However, in a statement on Thursday (10 October), SAA, said it wished “to state categorically that the airline’s maintenance division South African Airways Technical (SAAT) did not and does not use fake parts when servicing aircraft belonging to Mango Airlines or any other airline it services”.

“We wish to assure customers that all components and parts are procured from approved suppliers and all supporting documentation complies with South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) requirements on components,” it said.

SAA said it refutes claims in the media that the airline admitted to possibly having been supplied with “suspect parts” or components.

“Whilst any acts of criminality cannot be ruled out, it is untrue that there is a known international crime syndicate that has infiltrated SAA or SAAT that is responsible for tender manipulation and/or corruption at SAA or SAAT. There is no link, direct or indirect between the aircraft incident involving the Mango flight reported on and matters that are currently under investigation at SAAT.”

Emergency landing

The airline pointed out that on 2 September 2019 a flight operated by Mango Airlines experienced “technical difficulties that resulted in an air turn-back”.

The event itself had a limited impact on passengers, “who on the day, would have experienced a minor jolt, akin to driving through a pothole, as the flight crew disengaged autopilot to assume manual flight controls in accordance with the operating procedures of the aircraft manufacturer”.

It said that the crew noted that no significant loss of height was experienced, with Mango’s director of flight operations noting a loss in elevation of less than two feet. “Mango’s flight crew handled the incident in accordance with the airline’s standard operating procedures, and the event was duly reported to the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA),” the statement read.

It stressed that the cause of the air turn-back related to a component failure.

“The part, a stabiliser trim motor, failed during the climb of the flight to its planned cruise altitude. After levelling off in the cruise the crew’s attention was drawn to a “Stab out of trim” condition. This simply notifies the crew that the autopilot is maintaining the flight condition, but that the aircraft is not trimmed correctly.

“The crew read the checklist which very simply instructs them to hold the control column and disconnect the autopilot, which they complied with,” SAA said.

The aircraft component that failed on the Mango flight of 2 September 2019, was legitimately procured from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of Boeing 737-800 aircraft. SAAT received the part from the manufacturer on 5 August 2019. It was fitted on Mango’s aircraft on 7 August 2019 and failed after 96 flights and 125 hours of operation, the airline said.

SAA said it is awaiting feedback from the OEM – to whom the failed component has been returned to establish the cause of the component failure.

It added that none of the independent oversight audits that Mango has performed over SAAT over the years have at any stage given rise to any finding as it relates to traceability of parts.

“In all my career spanning 20 years of flying for different airlines, including 6 years within management in Mango Airlines, I have never been made aware, nor have I ever heard any rumours of bogus or untraceable parts being used by SAA Technical or in relation to Mango aircraft”, said Captain Juan Naude, director of flight operations for Mango.

“To ensure that SAA, SAAT and Mango comply with airworthiness requirements each year, civil aviation authorities issue two certificates for every aircraft in our fleet. The first licence is the airline operating certificate and the second one is the airworthiness certificate. We have obtained and maintain both certificates.

“Our safety management systems, quality assurance and airworthiness records have been confirmed by regulatory authorities,” SAA’s statement said.

Read: Safety scare as criminals supply dodgy parts to South African planes

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SAA responds to ‘fake parts’ claims and says faulty plane experienced ‘minor jolt akin to driving through a pothole’