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Letter to the Editor

November 19, 2018


The recent death of former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Pik Botha has prompted me to raise two issues which have not yet been put to bed.


1. The Samora Machel accident

On 19 October 1986, the Tupolev Tu-134 carrying President Samora Machel crashed 150 metres inside South Africa and accusations were levelled that the South African government had planted a radio beacon inside the border to lure the incoming aircraft away from Maputo. However, had the investigation been done at night, the matter would have been resolved long ago. Of course, civil servants don’t work at night, so it was never resolved.

We know from the tapes (CVR and FDR) that true to reputation, the Russian pilots often bust clearances and ignored regulations. On this occasion there was an indication that the crew saw what appeared to be the lights of Maputo. We also know that the crew had resorted to dead reckoning navigation as all the out-station NDB’s were out of operation during the war. There was also considerable amount of Cu build-up that evening (I know because I flew back from Maputo to Nelspruit about two hours before the crash.)

We also know from the tapes that their DME was indicating they were around 35nm from Maputo, and further that the GPW was alerting them to high ground in the area. According to translation, it appeared the Russian pilots elected to ignore both these warnings as there is no high ground in Maputo, and hit the high ground inside the South African border. No fire ensued as they were out of fuel by this time.

Had part of the investigation into the crash taken place at night, the accusation against South Africa would have been set aside. The lights of Maputo - some 35nm away, would not have been visible, considering the Cu, and also from the low altitude to which they had descended.

The lights the pilots were looking at were the flood lights of the Tabankulu and Mhlume sugar mills in Swaziland. (These mills operate day and night during the harvest season and are only about eight nautical miles from the crash site). They look similar to flood lights at an airport, especially if you want to believe that they are your destination.

I flew this route at night a number of times and only later did it dawn on me what had happened.


2. Bailouts to SAA - legal or illegal?

We know that the Air Services Act of 1949 as amended was replaced in 1990 by the Air Services Licencing Act (ASLA). This was as a result of the whole world agreeing through ICAO that an open skies policy must be implemented to create competition in the airline industry, thereby keeping ticket prices affordable to the public. The ASLA above was supported by the later introduction of the International Air Services Act Number 60 of 1993. Section 10 of the 1949 act prohibited the Council from issuing a licence to another applicant if the current licence holder over that route or system of routes was operating a safe and satisfactory service. This Act was enacted to protect the one carrier that should not be protected - SAA.

Surely in the legal spirit and by its adoption, South Africa agreed to this principle, then how come its legal to bailout SAA when the bailout is completely against the principle of open skies? And by bailing out an inefficient carrier, you kill all the competition.









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