Civil aviation examiner turns state witness

The man alleged by South Africa’s pilot community to have issued fraudulent pilots licences at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will be a state witness at the trial of the company’s suspended boss, Trevor Abrahams.

Murad Ismail is set to take the stand against Abrahams and eight other pilots when the trial resumes in September. Ismail is still employed by CAA, while Abrahams is suspended.

Said CAA representative Jackie Mfeka: “Ismail appeared before the independent review panel but subse-quently refused to testify when he was recalled, citing that he was a state witness and that his lawyers had advised him against testifying.”

Abrahams’s upgraded licence was issued by Ismail without following procedures. The review panel appointed by the CAA board last year recommended disciplinary steps against Ismail and a reprimand for Abrahams.

Ismail still works as an examiner in the authority and continues to test prospective pilots. Abrahams and Ismail are known in the industry to be close friends. The only time Ismail was called to explain his involvement in the scam was by an internal investigation headed by advocate Vincent Maleka last August.

Last year the Mail & Guardian pieced together an extraordinary story of massive corruption and cover-ups from the CAA’s top echelons to jet pilots. In one instance Abrahams crashed his plane and failed to report the accident until he was confronted by the Airline Pilots’ Association of South Africa.

The M&G has copies of licences bearing Ismail’s authorisation. One of them was issued to Nicolaus Delacovia, who crashed his plane in Mozambique in 1999, killing himself and a passenger. Ismail endorsed the renewal of Delacovia’s licence on June 16 last year.

CAA offices are normally closed on public holidays.
Mfeka played down Ismail’s involvement in the issuing of licences including upgrading Abrahams’s licence. She insisted that Ismail was a flight operations inspector, although copies of licences and the CAA’s website says he is a desig- nated examiner.

“It is not and has never been part of the duties of Ismail to issue pilot licences,” charged Mfeka. “Our records reflect that Ismail did not issue a licence to Abrahams nor to Delacovia. Our records do reflect that Ismail conducted a flight test twin-engine conversion evaluation with Delacovia.”

However, in correspondence with the Department of Transport, Ismail stated his satisfaction with the tests he had conducted before endorsing the renewal of Delacovia’s licence. Ismail declared his satisfaction that Delacovia met all prescribed requirements and issued him with a 30-day temporary licence. It confined him to piloting small aircraft with a strictly limited load.

However, two days later Delacovia’s licence mysteriously upgraded him to a commercial pilot allowing him to fly passenger airlines such as a Boeing 737 at any time of the day and in any weather.

Last week two independent investigations ordered by the authority found Abrahams guilty of flying an aircraft without proper qualifications and failing to report a serious crash-landing as stipulated by the law. Charges against another CAA official, Nancy Mashamaite, were withdrawn this week.

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