/ 13 November 2007

Kulula says pilot handled oil alert ‘perfectly’

Low-cost airline kulula.com said on Tuesday it would know ”in time” what caused the oil pressure warning which led to a flight to Cape Town turning back to Johannesburg.

”We are quite encouraged by the level of focus on safety issues in terms of domestic flights. It’s a good thing,” said Gidon Novick, joint CEO of Comair, which operates kulula.com.

”We are also encouraged by the level of customer awareness in terms of safety,” said Novick.

He explained that 40 minutes into a flight to Cape Town, the MD82 aircraft gave an oil-pressure warning.

He said the captain could have continued with just one engine but decided to take a cautious approach and fly to the main base in Johannesburg where he would receive maintenance support.

In the meantime, it found that procedurally, the situation was handled ”perfectly” by the pilot.

None of the passengers suffered any harm, but a passenger, Rassie Erasmus, quoted in Beeld said, ”I looked around and saw people praying. The whole time I thought the plane was going to fall.”

The company is in the process of replacing its fleet of leased MD82s, which, said Novick, were older and less reliable.

He said that by the end of November, the company should only have three McDonnell Douglas planes left in its fleet of 10. He said that by the end of the year, he expected the company to have replaced all the ageing aircraft.

The new fleet will be made up of Boeing 737-400s, which the company considers to be more reliable and efficient.

Novick said that there had been some technical difficulties with the MD82s and these caused customer delays when parts had to be flown in.

The aircraft were maintained by South African Airways Technical staff and their usual checks had been conducted, which he considered to be of a sufficiently high standard.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it would not extend its directive to inspect all Boeing 737-200s to other aircraft following an incident last week when an engine fell off a Nationwide aircraft.

CAA spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu said, ”We will not be taking the same route with this one.”

The authority, tasked with regulating the aviation industry, would, however, conduct an investigation into the kulula.com incident.

CAA inspectors were present at three of four of the Nationwide crafts’ inspections but the rest would be conducted by the maintenance teams contracted by the individual airlines, who would submit a report to the CAA. – Sapa