Flying high — or not

What a strange business the Nationwide fracas has been. What is spin and what is the truth?

To recap, the airline said a Boeing engine “sucked” in an “object” as the plane was taking off from Cape Town International Airport on November 7. The captain, Trevor Arnold, heard a loud noise, and the aircraft yawed. He then instituted emergency procedures and made an emergency landing.

Nationwide’s CEO complimented Arnold and his crew “for their heroic efforts in helping to maintain the company’s outstanding safety record”. No words for the white-knuckled passengers, for what must almost certainly have rated as among the most terrifying moments in their lives.

The next week, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) sent out a directive to have all Boeing 737-200s inspected. Aircraft belonging to Comair, and South African Airways Cargo were found safe after engine-mount inspections.

Nationwide, meanwhile, submitted reports on inspections conducted on seven of its aircraft — three met the CAA’s requirements while four others complied with 90% of the requirements. It was given clearance to the four Boeings as the ‘10% remaining [requirements] have not been deemed as putting passengers at risk at all”, said the CAA.

Then, on November 29, the CAA suspended approval for Nationwide’s maintenance organisation. The CAA said it had also suspended the certificates of airworthiness of Nationwide’s fleet of 16 aircraft — 12 737-200s, five 727s and one 767. If the airline did not comply, its licence would be revoked altogether.

“It was unavoidable,” said CAA CEO Zakes Myeza. He said the suspension arose from the airline’s failure to comply with an airworthiness directorate issued in September and subsequent audits of its compliance. The CAA said it could not afford to be “reckless” because it was “dealing with human lives”.

On December 3, the CAA said it was “willing” to help Nationwide comply with CAA regulations. A spokesperson from Nationwide said, optimistically, that it was hoping the airline would be able to take to the skies again by the end of this week.

A day later, the CAA and Nationwide said they had agreed to a media blackout regarding the grounding of the carrier. They said they would no longer make independent statements to the press, but would speak jointly on the process. This, said the CAA, was to avoid “causing confusion”.

In the midst of all this confusion, Myeza said he was stepping down. This will be cold comfort for Nationwide, which probably won’t be able to give away tickets in the near future. Its reputation has been damaged and the quicker it can get into the air, the better.

Pity the traveller, though. We need strong leadership and a clear communication strategy at the CAA, something that appears to be singularly lacking.

Laohu Valley Reserve
This Free State nature reserve has announced the first South China tiger cub — one of the most endangered species in the world — born in South Africa. Experts say fewer than 30 of these tigers remain living in the wild. The reserve’s efforts to ensure the tigers’ survival must be applauded.
Glenn Agliotti
Police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi’s friend — also accused of the murder of Brett Kebble — was found guilty this week of drug dealing in a plea agreement. Agliotti is set to testify for the state against drug syndicates in South Africa. Watch this space …

Most-read stories
November 29 to December 5

1. The great Zuma debate
In the fierce debate raging around the man tipped to become South Africa’s next president, African National Congress deputy president Jacob Zuma, there are few neutrals.

2. The Zuma plan: It ain’t over till it’s over
Key strategists for African National Congress (ANC) presidential frontrunner Jacob Zuma are working to increase his majority at the Polokwane national conference and have vowed not to allow complacency to creep in.

3. Santa Claus is coming to town — for 34 microseconds
Christmas is hectic for all but particularly for Santa, who must live in Kyrgyzstan and make his rounds at lightning speed if he is to deliver gifts to all the world’s children on time, a Swedish consultancy has concluded.

4. Positioning for a Zuma future
Poor leadership in the national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC Women’s League as well as a surge of ‘careerism” in its ranks are to blame for the 11th-hour switch in the league’s allegiance to support ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, ANC insiders said.

5. Early poll a possibility, says Mbeki
President Thabo Mbeki said on Sunday that he would not rule out calling early general elections if he failed to win the leadership of the governing African National Congress (ANC) party.

6. Africa considers a South Africa ruled by Zuma
On May 30 2005, the day judgement was handed down in Schabir Shaik’s trial, Jacob Zuma flew to Zambia on an official visit. Now, as Zuma canters towards the ANC presidency, the rest of the continent is watching developments within the ANC with varying degrees of interest.

7. The left and Zuma: be careful what you wish for
In SACP and Cosatu parlance we are now on the verge of dislodging the 1996 class project represented by Thabo Mbeki. Or are we?

8. Zuma brushes off scandals to lead race
Jacob Zuma is hounded by corruption allegations and his rape trial often overshadows his status as a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle.

9. Zuma raids: ‘Judicial process’ divided
Jacob Zuma and his lawyer Michael Hulley are claiming in papers filed with the Constitutional Court on Wednesday that search-and-seizure raids by the Scorpions invaded their constitutional right to privacy, and dignity.

10. ‘The ANC is not the US’
Some ANC national executive committee members believe that changes are needed in the procedure for the election of the party’s president, which should take place after an ‘open campaign”.

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