SAA licence fraud claims another scalp

Wings clipped: SAA has tightened up on its procedures for checking pilot licences after a pilot was found to have forged one of his documents. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

Wings clipped: SAA has tightened up on its procedures for checking pilot licences after a pilot was found to have forged one of his documents. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

The scandal of the senior SAA pilot with a forged licence has resulted in the suspension of the airline’s highest-ranking official responsible for safety after allegations that she tried to cover up for the veteran flyer.

The Mail & Guardian understands that SAA’s group head for safety, Victoria Buxton, was suspended and is facing disciplinary action for allegedly attempting to conceal the indiscretion involving the disgraced William Chandler.

He was found out as a result of an investigation into a reportable incident on flight SA260 travelling between OR Tambo International Airport and Frankfurt in November last year.

The investigation, which includes verification of the crew’s certification, revealed the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) did not have a record of Chandler’s airline transport pilot licence (ATPL). He had submitted fraudulent documents, claiming he had one, to SAA and inspectors.

READ MORE: Fake SAA pilot flew under radar

The situation was immediately brought to the attention of Buxton, who investigated the incident for SAA, and it is claimed she, instead of informing SAA and taking action, alerted the South African Pilots’ Association. Buxton also approached SAA group executive for operations Zuks Ramasia about the possibility of covering up for Chandler, sources alleged.

“It seems as if she was the one who suggested to him [when it became clear there would be no cover-up] that he resign in order to cash in his pension when it was clear this was not going to be covered up,” said an SAA insider with direct knowledge of the matter.

Buxton could not be reached for comment and SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the airline could not comment in detail on issues related to her suspension, saying it “could potentially taint the integrity of that process”.

He did say, however, that the airline was still investigating how Chandler managed to get away with his deception for so many years.

SAA and SACAA insiders said Chandler beat the system by renewing his commercial pilot licence (CPL) with the SACAA every year, as required by law, and then getting the renewal document altered to reflect an ATPL.

“At this stage, the root-cause analysis has revealed a lack of properly documented procedures relating to the verification of pilot licences with the SACAA and this is currently being addressed,” said Tlali.

This included the airline introducing a three-point procedure to enable early detection “of features and details reflected on the licence”.
Part of this would include the SACAA providing a copy of a pilot’s licence so that it could be compared with each individual pilot’s file. Previously, pilots who were already in the system were just taken at their word, as was the documentation they submitted to the airline.

“Currently, pilots have a single licence number, which they retain through different stages of their qualification, from PPL [private pilot licence], CPL until ATPL. The main mitigation is that we no longer rely on the trust relationship and now require all pilot licence renewals to be managed directly by the training administration department and not any individual pilot.

“The matter involving the forged ATPL was nothing but betrayal of good faith and lack of integrity,” Tlali said.

The issue has been discussed on aviation blogs and online forums since the M&G revealed last week that he had worked at SAA illegitimately for 20 years because he did not have a genuine ATPL.

Chandler became a pilot in 1994 and, according to SAA policy, should have possessed an ATPL in 1999 but instead he presented a fake one. Chandler only has a CPL.

He also fell foul of the law by flying aircraft weighing more than 5.7 tonnes and flying overseas as co-pilot, for which CAA regulations require him to possess an ATPL.

Sabelo Skiti

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