The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is considering ‘enforcement action’ against the operator of the Airbus A330 aircraft that transported members of the Gupta wedding party to South Africa, for violation of Civil Aviation regulations, after it was discovered that the aircraft was without a Foreign Operator Permit.
The A330, belonging to Jet Airways, carried passengers from India to Air Force Base Waterkloof on Tuesday but was removed from the base following an order from Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. The jet was flying in guests for the Gupta family wedding at the Sun City resort.
Following its removal from Waterkloof, the jet was transferred to OR Tambo International Airport. There the SACAA found it to be without a Foreign Operator Permit.
“The implications of the decision by the Minister of Defence are that the aircraft is now in the civilian airspace and will be subjected to the provisions of the civil aviation Authority legislation and International Air Services Act,” the SACAA said in a statement.
“In cases where a foreign operated aircraft carrying civilians will land at a military aerodrome, Part 139.01.2 of the Civil Aviation Regulations requires that an operator of such an aircraft submit an application in writing to the Director (Director of Civil Aviation of the SACAA) requesting permission for that aircraft to land at a military aerodrome.
“However this is subject to the Minister of Defence granting permission for such landing before the application is forwarded to the SACAA. The SACAA can confirm that no application was received by the Office of the Director in this regard.”
According to the International Air Service Act, when a foreign aircraft arrives in South Africa, the SACAA conducts safety audits on the aircraft and verifies the validity of licences for the crew. The SACAA, when it heard that the aircraft was transferred to OR Tambo International Airport, sent out a team of inspectors to conduct a ramp inspection.
“The team confirmed that the aircraft did not have a Foreign Operator Permit as is a requirement for a civilian operation. They also found that the aircraft had conformed to all other safety related requirements such as a valid Certificate of Airworthiness, and its maintenance records were up to date.”
The SACAA said that in light of the violation, “the extent of the enforcement action will be decided once all the facts are considered.”
The landing of the jet at AFB Waterkloof has generated controversy as the base is a national key point that is restricted for security reasons.
Gupta wedding spokesman Haranath Ghosh ahd said that “Waterkloof Air Force Base was used with full permission of the authorities to receive foreign dignitaries, including some ministers.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said that Sahara (a company owned by the Gupta family) approached her for assistance in approving a request for airport use that would be sent to the Indian High Commissioner. She rejected this approach.
Mapisa-Nqakula said that the South African Air Force allowed the aircraft to land at Waterkloof because it assumed the aircraft contained foreign dignitaries, including state ministers, as per documentation from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). “It had never been our expectation therefore that attempts would then be made to find other avenues to try and secure the use of the Air Force base through the diplomatic channel at DIRCO,” the minister said.
She added that DIRCO dealt with the request from the Indian High Commissioner without consultation with the Chief of the South Africa National Defence Force, the Chief of the Air Force and the Defence Ministry. “The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans would never have approved such a request.”
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation subsequently suspended Chief of State Protocol Ambassador Bruce Koloane and an investigation has been launched by the defence ministry into the matter.
Indian high commissioner in South Africa Virendra Gupta has not issued any comment on the matter.