The SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) says South African Airlink’s BAE Systems Jetstream 41 (J41) fleet is fit to fly.
In a statement issued yesterday the regulator said the Commissioner for Civil Aviation decided “in principle” to uplift the suspension of the certificates of airworthiness for the ten J41s that still remained grounded.
SACAA suspended the certificates of airworthiness of all Jetstream aircraft in SA on December 23 as a result of safety concerns that included a series of aircraft incidents and a fatal accident. The grounding was also linked to a safety audit then underway at Airlink. Airlink attributed some of the incidents involving the J41 to a fault on the aircraft’s Honeywell turboprop engines.
SACAA indicated at the time that it would be necessary to conduct individual aircraft inspections on the Jetstream aircraft fleet before any upliftment of the said suspensions could be considered.
In its statement the authority notes the inspections commenced on January 1 and resulted in comprehensive checks being undertaken, which included an intensified safety audit of the Airlink maintenance planning and quality systems.
“This comprehensive auditing approach resulted in the SACAA assessing the entire maintenance planning and quality system of Airlink, checking it for integrity and completeness. Emanating from this process, SACAA inspectors have successfully completed inspections on the first three Jetstream aircraft and have re-issued them with the necessary approvals to commence operating.
Honeywell white paper a clincher
“During this intensified aircraft inspection process, both Airlink and the SACAA interacted with the engine manufacturer, Honeywell, who in turn conducted a detailed analysis of the engine technical problems that had affected Airlink in recent times. A comprehensive document, called a “white paper” was submitted to SACAA by Honeywell, which gave a detailed analysis of the risks associated with the engine problems alluded to above.
“The recommendation of the Honeywell white paper indicates that the safety analysis of aircraft engines installed on the SA Airlink Jetstream is still within acceptable risk levels. Nevertheless, the engine manufacturer has already embarked on a program to redesign the engine rotating air seal plate on the global fleet, in order to further improve the safety levels,” the SACAA said.
“SACAA would like to confirm that the analysis and justification presented by Honeywell seems to be sufficient in addressing the safety concerns related to the serviceability of the aircraft engine in question.
“During the in-depth inspections of the three Jetstream aircraft, a number of areas of non-compliance with regulations were identified and these were immediately rectified by the operator on all the aircraft in the Jetstream fleet. After analysing substantial amount of data obtained during the inspection process from the aircraft and engine manufacturers and the operator, the SACAA Airworthiness Department is of the view that it has enough evidence to verify the reliability and airworthiness of the aircraft type in question.
“More importantly, the SACAA was able to verify that the mandatory maintenance inspections required to be undertaken on the fleet were indeed performed as required by both the aircraft and engine manufacturers and in compliance with the applicable Civil Aviation Regulations. It is important to highlight the fact that Airlink has been subjected to an extensive and comprehensive auditing process of huge magnitude since December 7. Notwithstanding the findings mentioned above, the SACAA is satisfied that Airlink has been able to demonstrate an acceptable level of compliance with regards to the airworthiness status of its Jetstream aircraft fleet.
“Having taken into account the above considerations, the Commissioner for Civil Aviation has taken the decision, in principle, to uplift the suspension of the certificates of airworthiness for the rest of the SA Airlink Jetstream aircraft fleet with effect from January 21, subject to the following conditions:
That SA Airlink will conduct certain aircraft maintenance inspections as prescribed by the SACAA on the remaining 10 aircraft and submit evidence that the inspections have been carried out as instructed.
The SACAA will still continue overseeing the full implementation of the Corrective Action Plan which was submitted by SA Airlink early in December 2009.
Air safety paramount for SACAA
“The SACAA would like to assure the … public that it regards its statutory mandate of ensuring aviation safety and security to be of paramount importance. As such, the aviation safety record in the country continues to demonstrate tremendous improvements as a result of the enhanced aviation safety and security oversight by the SACAA.
“The aircraft accidents statistics for the year 2009 speak volumes of the level of aviation safety in the country,” the authority continues.
It says between January to December 2008 190 aircraft accidents were reported. “The SACAA is glad to announce that during the period January to December 2009, only 125 aircraft accidents were reported, representing a reduction of almost 34.2%.
“With regards to fatal accidents, a total of 33 were recorded in 2008 and only 16 were recorded in 2009, representing a reduction 51.5%. Pertaining to the number of fatalities, 2008 saw a total of 94 deaths resulting from aircraft accidents. This number reduced by 70.2% in 2009 when only 28 deaths resulted from aircraft accidents.
“In the last few years, the SACAA has been able to recruit highly skilled personnel in its inspectorate and management positions. As a result of having such a large complement of inspectors, the SACAA has greatly improved the integrity, quality, depth and scope of its audits and inspections, which have led to high levels of compliance by the aviation industry to the applicable Civil Aviation Regulations.
“The SACAA remains confident that the aviation safety and security records in the country exceed the minimum standards and in fact compare favourably in terms of the best international standards and practice. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the US subjected the SACAA to two comprehensive audits of its oversight system from mid July 2007 through to 2009. The results of these two audits revealed that the level of aviation safety and security in South Africa was rated amongst the best in the world.
“As the country braces itself for hosting a successful and memorable Soccer World Cup later this year, the SACAA would like to assure members of the public that it will continue to effectively control, regulate and oversee the aviation industry in the country.”
The announcement came as the airline announced that a BAE Systems Avro RJ85 en route to Antananarivo, Madagascar, had to turn back shortly after take-off on Monday, due to overheating.
“The turn-back related to intense weather systems and the expectation of encountering severe icing en-route to Antananarivo, and was in the interests of safety,” spokeswoman Karin Murray said in a statement.
She said the replacement aircraft had encountered a flap problem while on the ground and due to the indefinite delay the flight had been cancelled.
“Passengers were taken care of with hotel arrangements and accommodated on the next available flight on Tuesday morning.”
Airlink, BAE Systems welcomes move
Murray this morning said Airlink welcomed the SACAA decision.
BAE Systems, the J41’s manufacturer, welcomed the decision. “The J41 has an excellent global safety record and BAE Systems remains confident that the aircraft and its Honeywell engine full meets international regulatory safety standards,” a spokesman said.
Some 100 Jetstream 41s were built between 1992 and 1997, of which 74 are currently in service.
In addition to Airlink, Jetstream 41s are in service with over 20 operators in Africa, North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australasia. The aircraft are operated as airliners, corporate transports and for special roles missions. The type has completed over two million fleet hours.