Transport on Flight Inspection Unit aircraft investigation

No stone will be left unturned during the Flight Inspection Unit aircraft investigation

The Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula, has noted with concern media reports questioning the independence of the investigation of the circumstances that led to the South African Civil Aviation Authority’s (SACAA) Flight Inspection Unit (FIU) aircraft accident.

The Minister wishes to state on the record that the Accident and Incident Investigation Division (AIID) is accountable to the Department of Transport and not to the SACAA.

As per a Ministerial Order issued in May 2016, AIID in so far as it relates to accident and incident investigations and reports shall report to the Minister of Transport. In addition, the Ministerial Order catered for the appointment of a Safety Review Panel made of independent industry experts, that would review the accident and incident investigation reports before they are approved for submission to the Minister of Transport.

The reports and comments that surfaced thus far are misleading and clearly intended at distracting and undermining the independence and credibility of a very competent and capable investigation team while they are conducting this difficult task.

I wish to assure the public and the aviation community that the investigation will not be compromised in anyway and that we owe it to the bereaved families and the public to establish the real facts on what might have led to this tragic accident, said Minister Mbalula.

The tragic accident took place on Thursday, 23 January 2020, when the aircraft, a Cessna Citation – S550 SII, owned by the SACAA, with three members of the Flight Inspection Unit onboard, crashed shortly after take-off from the George Airport in the Western Cape. The team, composed of Captain Thabiso Collins Tolo, First Officer Tebogo Caroline Lekalakala, and Flight Inspector Gugu Comfort Mnguni, were on a mission to conduct calibration of the George Airport.

The investigation unit has commenced its work after it was immediately dispatched to start investigating the cause of the accident.

South Africa is ranked very highly in terms of air safety and security matters and complies with international standards; and enjoys the respect of the international community as a result of, among others, the diligent work carried out by the SACAA, and AIID.

We acknowledge that this is the first time in our country that such an accident occurred, with an aircraft owned and operated by the SACAA, however that is no reason to doubt the independence and competency of the investigating unit that has done great work in the past. This aircraft accident will be no exception because we all want answers as to what was the cause of the accident, said Minister Mbalula.

As per the norm, South Africa, as the country of registry and occurrence, is not the only State interested in this investigation. The country of design as well as the country of manufacture, and other parties such as the engine manufacturer have been notified and invited to appoint representatives to work closely with the investigation team as per international norms. Therefore, the work of the South African investigating team will not be done in isolation.

Upon completion of the report, the investigation team will present their findings to Safety Review Panel that is composed of independent industry experts for review prior to submission to the Minister of Transport.

The investigation team is expected to produce a Preliminary Report within thirty (30) days of the incident. If the investigation is not concluded within a period of twelve (12) months, an Interim Report will be produced. The completion of the investigation is marked by the release of a Final Report. All these reports are public documents. The Minister of Transport will update bereaved families, stakeholders and the public on developments when the reports are presented to him. The report becomes public document, and nothing will be hidden.

Government is in the process of finalising a draft Bill, which is before Parliament, aimed at strengthening the independence of the investigation unit.

Once again, I wish to express sincere condolences to the bereaved families, loved ones, aviation community and all South Africans for the passing of this talented and greatly experienced colleagues who possessed very rare and important skills that ensure that our airports comply with the set international safety standards. In the meantime, I call on all stakeholders to avoid any speculation and trust the investigation team to get to the bottom of what might have led to this tragedy, said Minister Mbalula.

Source: Government of South Africa