Pilot grounded for ‘borrowing’ aircraft

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A South African Air Force pilot who ‘borrowed’ an aircraft to visit a friend in neighbouring Botswana has been grounded and subsequently suspended from flying.

This emerged yesterday in Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s response to a parliamentary question.

Lieutenant N S K Bulwana in early January visited a friend at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gabarone in a Cessna 172 without submitting a flight plan, and without gaining permission to enter a neighbouring country’s airspace.

The flight was made possible by his friend, an air traffic controller at Gaborone’s airport. The pilot also apparently stole a fuel card from the Air Force’s VIP 21 Squadron.

Bulwana was grounded in February pending an investigation and charged the following month.

The pilot would have gotten away with the flight if his colleagues had not reported him to the authorities. He apparently boasted about his feat, saying he was untouchable because he knew the right people.
“Clearly the pilot concerned should be expelled from the air force. This incident is also clear evidence that there is a problem with discipline in the defence force because it should simply never have happened,” Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said earlier this year.

Democratic Alliance shadow defence minister David Maynier said: “There is clearly something very wrong at the South African Air Force’s (VIP squadron). How on earth is it possible for an air force pilot to ‘borrow’ an aircraft to visit a friend in Botswana after stealing a petrol card?”