South African Airways Pilot Flies Without License, Encounters Turbulence And Panics

A South African Airways pilot has been accused of flying without the correct license, defrauding his employer.

The senior pilot caught the attention of the airline after a turbulence incident last year.

What are the details?

Flight SA260 was en route from Johannesburg to Frankfurt last November when it encountered some turbulence over the Swiss Alps. Essentially, this caused the A340-600 to over speed. The captain and the first officer (the pilot in question) regained control of the aircraft and landed it at Frankfurt 35 minutes later. Upon investigation, it was revealed that the event was caused by a failure in the autopilot system and was rated a serious incident by the German Aviation Authority.

South African Airways A340-600. Source: Wikimedia

Because it was rated serious, not only would the plane be checked over, its crew would be investigated also.

Whilst the captain passed with flying colors, investigators discovered that the first officer pilot was missing a certain aviation license, the air transport pilots license. He was rated to fly that type of aircraft, had passed all the safety training and held a commercial aviation license, but not the required license for all SAA pilots.

The seat map of the A340-600. Source: SAA

SAA asks all pilots to apply and receive their air transport pilots license within 5 years of flying with the airline. The pilot had joined the airline in 1994, but for whatever reason had not actually gotten their air transport license by 1999. The airline does not actually follow up these checks unless they wish to make you a captain, which the pilot refused multiple times.

The pilot (not pictured) had refused to be promoted in the last 20 years. Source: SAA

Upon discovery of this information, the airline decided to file a criminal fraud suit against the pilot. They are claiming that he “failed to meet the requirements of the role but was nevertheless receiving all the financial benefits“. The airline was quick to point out that whilst the pilot was not properly qualified, he was fully trained and that passengers were never at risk.

Video of the day:

“Any pilot failing to obtain this license will have their employment terminated with the airline,” – SAA statement

The pilot has since resigned and is no longer flying.

SAA cabin crew. Source: SAA

This sequence of events has resulted in a huge audit of the company and its pilots. SAA has submitted all pilot and fleet documentation to the South African government and requested that the system of air transport licensing be overhauled so this mistake does not happen in future.

What do you think? Is the pilot to blame or is the airline being overzealous? Let us know in the comments. 

Leave a Reply

3 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

I think i’ts the airlines mistake. the are responsible for checking all pilots documents. The pilot didn’t want to promote to a captain. Seems weird to me as he was flying for the airline for 20 years.


It’s not weird if you don’t think you are good enough to pass the ATP which he would have needed to get to captain. He knew SAA just assumed he had his ATP because at this level everyone has one – is or supposed to have one. For whatever reason he avoided getting it, and that likely means he didn’t want to get tested for it even when he was within the window frame of five years to get it. In other words, he was making good enough money flying right seat and didn’t want to risk exposing that he… Read more »

John Birch

The headline says the pilot (First Officer) “Panics.” The story is mute on this point and in fact it seems outside of e license issue the First Officer reliably performed. As to refusing promotion, the First Officer, with many years under is belt can bid essentially any schedule he likes with a reasonable certainty of getting it. As a newly minted Captain he would be left to fly the unwanted dregs of the SAA route system.


is just a carelessness of the airline