In the wake of a terrifying experience for passengers on board a Mango Airlines flight last month, the South African Civil Aviation Authority has pointed the finger of blame at a part. The replacement electrical trim motor was fitted to the Boeing 737 just weeks before the incident. Now, it appears the part could have been counterfeit or faulty. Worse than that, it seems that SAA Technical, the MRO organization who fitted it, may have been infiltrated by a criminal syndicate.
The aircraft nosedived
According to reporting at the Aviation Herald, the Mango Airlines Boeing 737-800, registered ZS-SJD, was performing flight number JE-129 to Cape Town from Johannesburg on September 2nd, 2019. Upon almost reaching cruise level, the crew received an indication that there was a trim issue. Working through the checklists, the crew disengaged autopilot which resulted in a dramatic nose down.
What proceeded next was something of a mid-air battle. With the electric trim controls out of action, crew attempted to correct the trim using the manual trim wheel, however, it repeatedly jumped back to its original position. Eventually, crew managed to regain control of the aircraft but were, by now, no longer compliant with the minimum vertical separation requirements. With autopilot inoperable and fuel reserves not enough to complete the flight at the lower altitude, crew took the decision to return to Johannesburg.
Although emergency services were on standby, the aircraft landed without further incident back at Johannesburg around 55 minutes after departure. Investigations by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACCA) has determined that the aircraft was involved in various maintenance activities prior to the incident. This included, on 5th August, the removal and replacement of the electrical trim motor.
The history of that part could not be determined, and since the incident, questions have arisen over the authenticity of the part. Despite being fitted by SAA Technical, the part was untraceable, and it is suspected that the part was faulty and/or fraudulent.
SAA ‘infiltrated’ by crime syndicate
According to Business Tech, South African Airways (SAA) has confirmed that it has been infiltrated by an international crime syndicate. As a result, some hundreds of millions of rands have been looted from the company through dodgy tenders, some of which may have included supplying ‘possibly suspect’ parts.
“Certain phases have been concluded [and] we will refer these matters to the National Prosecuting Authority for prosecution.”
SAA Technical conducts maintenance for both SAA and Mango Airlines, but also for a number of other African airlines, and some further afield in the Middle East and Europe too. According to reporting, British Airways contractor, Comair, has severed ties with SAA Technical due to the organizations “well-documented problems with maintenance scheduling and parts inventory”.
Merger and sale
SAA itself has been at the center of multiple controversies over recent months and years. The loss-making carrier is an ongoing burden to the government of South Africa, and recent plans to sell it off have largely been met positively by the people of the nation.
Plans to merge the state-owned airlines of SAA, Mango and SA Express have also recently been made public. However, as with many things in South Africa, there is a lot of red tape to get through before anything will be formally agreed.
In the meantime, SAA clearly needs to do everything in their power to prevent further use of faulty or counterfeit parts, which could put the lives of thousands of people at risk.