Grounded! Why SAA Cargo wasn’t cleared for takeoff
Airline missed a crucial deadline to upgrade software that allows aircraft to communicate while in the air
Three South African Airways Cargo aircraft spent five days grounded last month after the airline missed a crucial deadline to upgrade software that allows aircraft to communicate while in the air.
The Boeing 737 freighters were grounded by SAA itself after the airline was denied a request for an extension by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) after missing a deadline to upgrade the aircrafts’ Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).
SAA Cargo operates one flight per night between OR Tambo International and terminals in Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town to deliver freight. On occasion they will also do two regional flights to Maputo, Harare, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Entebbe and Namibia, depending on demand.
“The grounding of the aircraft was self-imposed to ensure compliance to CAA requirement and it was for five working days. Operations resumed on February 24 2018,” said spokesperson Tlali Tlali.SAA missed the deadline, which was initially set for January 2015, and was granted an extension after it became clear that not all operators would make it. But three years after the initial deadline the airline still has not made it, leading to an individual application for extension.
“While the application was being reviewed, CAA gave us permission to operate aircraft until April 13 2018. On reviewing the application the CAA indicated that we had not supplied sufficient proof that the equipment has been procured. SAA then decided to withdraw the aircraft from service while the paperwork was being updated,” said Tlali.The TCAS, which essentially allows aircraft travelling in the same flight path to communicate in the air to establish their positions and avoid crashing into each other, is a requirement for all aircraft. SAA had already made the necessary upgrades to its passenger fleet.
Tlali blamed the missed deadline on difficulty in obtaining the necessary parts from the US. He also said the airline was unable to quantify the financial loss resulting from the grounding.“When we became aware of the possible grounding we immediately informed our customers we will not accept specific types of cargo for the period of the suspension of services.“Of the cargo that was already delivered to us we moved as much as possible through passenger airline flights.
“For urgent shipments we made arrangements to move the cargo via other airlines. Some of the customers were able to delay transportation and delivered the cargo once we uplifted the suspension and we were then able to move it.
“The measures we took ensured that the financial impact on us and on our customers was minimised,” said Tlali.
The SACAA said the software update was necessary, in the South African context, for aircraft with turbine engines weighing in excess of 15,000kg and with authority to carry more than 30 passengers.
“At some point it became evident various equipment or products were not readily available and this posed a challenge as operators would not have been able to comply with requirements before the due date,” said SACAA spokesman Kabelo Ledwaba.As a result of this challenge, he added, all operators were granted exemption from the July 2017 due date until January 2018. However, SAA could not meet this deadline and applied for another exemption. This was declined.
“The outcome of the application was duly communicated to SAA. Our understanding is that the operator, and rightfully so, unilaterally decided to withdraw the affected aircraft from service ... in our view it demonstrated the operator’s willingness and commitment to comply with civil aviation regulations."
Ledwaba said the upgrade from the first version of TCAS was to add capability that allowed the system to recommend escape manoeuvres to increase separation between aircraft.