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CAA has some explaining to do

2 Dec 2007. South Africa's Civil Aviation Authority has some explaining to do. Nationwide claim they didn't know why their AMO's licence was revoked, and after asking a few times for the reasons; South Africa's Civil Aviation Authority raised the same issues they did after their internal audit in September, most of which Nationwide claim they have already implemented.

Grounding an airline should only be done if safety is compromised

Grounding an airline has massive implications - it throws the plans of all the ticket-holders of that airline into dissaray, jeopardises the jobs of the employees of the airline, costs the shareholders of the airline a lot of cake and may possibly put the airline out of business (leaving South Africa with a less competitive aviation industry). We view grounding an airline as being the last resort of South Africa's Civil Aviation Authority.

Having said that, air safety is something that cannot be compromised. Even given the fact that an airline might be driven under by South Africa's Civil Aviation Authority grounding them, this is the bullet they have got to bite if they've compromised air safety; and this is the reason why we came out hard against Nationwide in an article we wrote on Friday.

Nationwide grounded because of administrative issue

Now, we read that Nationwide have been grounded because of an administrative issue ("In the main, the CAA’s concerns relate to the administrative systems in our AMO. The CAA has not raised any concerns that relate directly to any of our aircraft."). Administrative issues require censure, fines but not grounding - which causes massive disruption.

And Nationwide say that "Most of these issues were raised by the CAA after their initial audit in September following which we implemented the necessary remedial actions." If the same reasons were raised in September why wasn't Nationwide grounded then? If they weren't deemed serious enough then to ground the airline, why didn't the CAA raise the outstanding issues with Nationwide?

So many questions are unanswered. The ball is now firmly in the SACAA's court - they have some explaining to do of how safety was compromised, why they weren't working together with Nationwide in resolving these issues and why they waited until the flying season started.

Why must Nationwide struggle to get the SACAA's views?

"After several requests, last night we received a communiqué from the South African Civil Aviation Authority specifying its concerns." Surely the SACAA should have spelled out the issues immediately for Nationwide to address, why did Nationwide have to send out several requests to the SACAA?

Statement by Nationwide's Chief Executive Officer

On Saturday 1 Dec 2007 at 4:45pm Vernon Bricknell (Nationwide's CEO) issued the following press release on Nationwide's website:

"On behalf of Nationwide Airlines, I would like to apologise to our customers and the travelling public who have experienced inconvenience and distress since Friday, the first day of the busy summer holiday season.

The entire management team and staff have been working around the clock to resolve the crisis with the aim of resuming normal flight operations as quickly as possible.

So far we have had to cancel more than 90 flights serving Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Mpumalanga, George, Livingstone and London-Gatwick. This has impacted about 9,000 travellers.

While our services are disrupted, our ticket-holders have the option of re-booking or obtaining full refunds.

Since establishing Nationwide Airlines in 1995 I have regarded the safety of our passengers, staff and equipment as my top priority. Safety is not negotiable, has not and will not be compromised in any way.

As part of our ongoing safety programme, in 2006, we underwent the International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). IOSA is an audit of the management and control processes of an airline based on exacting standards developed in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO - the UN body which sets global standards for civil aviation) and regulatory bodies including US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Transport Canada and Europe’s Joint Aviation Authority. It is one of a number of measures designed to ensure high levels of safety. Nationwide passed this audit and received its IOSA certificate in April.

After several requests, last night we received a communiqué from the South African Civil Aviation Authority specifying its concerns. In the main, the CAA’s concerns relate to the administrative systems in our AMO. The CAA has not raised any concerns that relate directly to any of our aircraft.

Most of these issues were raised by the CAA after their initial audit in September following which we implemented the necessary remedial actions.

At that time, we undertook to submit a thorough action plan to the CAA before the close of business on 30 November 2007, ie. yesterday. As promised, we sent this action plan to the CAA yesterday for its consideration.

In addition, we have also advised the CAA of the various improvements and enhancements we have made to our AMO over the past three months and other steps we have taken to ensure the continued integrity of our operation.

They include:

  • The appointment of a new Accountable Manager for the AMO at the end of October.

  • The appointment of a new Planning Manager and a new Reliability Specialist.

  • All life-limited components – including all safety/emergency equipment were checked and found to be within their limits.

  • Updating our component life-monitoring data capture software with greater audit capabilities.

  • The establishment of a Corporate Quality Department to exercise quality management across every aspect of the company, including maintenance.

  • Labelling of our grease guns to provide clear indications of when they were last filled and the batch information of the specific grease.

  • Introduced a new system for checking the personal tool boxes of engineers after each aircraft’s maintenance check instead of once per month.

  • Disposal of unserviceable electrolyte battery cells in a controlled manner.

  • New storage and issuing arrangements for distilled water (used for batteries).

  • New storage and record-keeping procedures for batteries.

  • Verification of all aircraft Release for Service certificates and the correction of one certificate which was found to have been incorrectly completed.

On the 23rd November 2007 and following inspections by the SA CAA of our Aviation Maintenance Organization (AMO), the license for the AMO was renewed and issued.

From the 23rd November until the 29th November 2007 no further inspection was performed by the SA CAA, nor were we advised of any concerns on the part of the CAA.

Subsequently, the suspension of our AMO license on the 29th November late at night, and thus the grounding of our fleet came as a total surprise. Only following the suspension of our license on the 30th November, did the SA CAA inform us that they apparently had certain concerns relating to maintenance work conducted subsequent to the issuance of an Airworthiness Directive as issued by the authority on the 9th November.

As a result, allegations have been made in various media reports that we have fitted ‘bogus’ or ‘pirate’ parts to our aircraft. These allegations are totally false.

Certain rumours have surfaced which we would like to address. Whilst technical, the following information is complete and accurate:

  • On the 7th November whilst departing from Cape Town, Nationwide Airlines lost the number two engine on one of the Boeing 737-200 aircraft. As a result of the incident the SA CAA promulgated an Airworthiness Directive (AD) which called for a “Non Destructive Testing (NDT)” inspection of all the engine mountings and attachment bolts. The SA CAA also required that all operators of the B737-200 verify if all the previously issued FAA AD’s and Boeing Service Bulletins (SB) had been complied with.

  • This South African AD was carried out on Nationwide 737-200s and detailed confirmations were provided to the SA CAA on completion of each aircraft. During an inspection of the records it was noted that the technician who signed-off the AD on the last aircraft did not enter the part number and serial number of one of the cone bolts on the required form. When this was brought to our attention, we immediately issued an instruction for the removal of that particular cone bolt. On inspection of the cone bolt we noted that half of the serial number and part number were no longer visible under normal light as the indelible ink could no longer be read, however under a bright light, the full part number and serial number could be identified by the footprint of the ink into the metal. This cone bolt was taken to the SA CAA and shown to the relevant inspector. We also produced the relevant records of the NDT inspection for this cone bolt. As a result, a replacement cone bolt was installed to prevent any further confusion.

  • In 2005 we purchased a new hydrostatic bench test for the purpose of testing our oxygen bottles. This test bench was inspected and approved by the Civil Aviation Authority with the necessary certification issued. During our September 2007 audit we were informed that the CAA should not have originally certified this test bench without it first being certified by the Department of Labour. As the CAA had approved this installation, we were not aware that further approvals were required. As a result, the CAA suspended our ability to certify further testing on this unit until such time that we had achieved conformity with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This we accepted and discontinued the use of the test facility pending approval from the Department of Labour. After the aircraft incident of engine separation, we had a further full inspection of the AMO by the SA CAA. During this audit it was brought to our attention that our corrective action was not deemed satisfactory as we had not recalled the bottles which had been tested during the previous two years prior to our certification being suspended. It should be noted that our action plan submitted to the authority at the time of the audit was accepted – this did not call for the recall of such bottles. Subsequently, the bottles that had been certified by hydrostatic test bench were withdrawn from service.

  • Nationwide does not use “pirate” parts. We only purchase and use legitimate aircraft components from authorised suppliers with the required release documentation.

  • IATA has not withdrawn Nationwide’s membership to the association. It has simply suspended our participation in its billing and settlement programme which is a mechanism for exchanging money between airlines – this is normal protocol in such circumstances and does not represent abnormal activity by IATA.

  • Nationwide is not bankrupt and has not filed for liquidation. We are a financially secure and sound company.

With regard to our engine separation incident of 07 November 2007, we have been informed that the preliminary report from the University of Pretoria (Metallurgic Facility) found a recent fatigue crack which caused the failure of the aft primary engine mount and thus the engine separation. I would like to place on record that this bolt was by no means a ‘bogus bolt’ as reported in the media. We are in possession of all relevant NDT records which substantiate the correct testing of all our bolts at the time of engine installation. Our bolt failure is not an isolated incident. This is the 6th Boeing 737 (including major US airlines) which incurred the same problem resulting in the number two engine separation.

Nationwide makes a vital contribution to the South African and regional economy, providing much-needed airlift capacity for people and goods and supporting trade, tourism and economic development. We remain committed to serving our customers and the region with safe, reliable and affordable air transport."

KLM plane borrowed

In the meantime, Nationwide have borrowed a plane from KLM, for its Sunday (2 Dec) flight from Johannesburg to London. CAA inspectors were busy looking at the plane to ensure that it was properly maintained.



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