Poor handling of planes, half-baked training to blame for crashes
Poor maintenance routines and overloading of passengers and cargo planes are some of the major causes of aircraft accidents in South Sudan.
In an exclusive with The City Review on Thursday, the Director General-Air Navigation Service at the South Sudan Civil Aviation Authority (SSCA), Stephen Rombe Lojulo, mapped three major causes of plane crashes that have frequented the country’s airspace.
“Primarily, those crashes happened because of three things: poor maintenance, overloading, and lack of proper training for some crew members to fly those Antonovs, although others may be there,” he revealed.
He said most aircraft in South Sudan have not been flown to their countries of origin for maintenance or checkups, and this has reduced them to death traps.
“All the aircraft in South Sudan…have [never] been flown out for maintenance, which includes scheduled and line maintenance for the prolongation of the life span of the aircraft,” he explained.
He dismissed the statement from some aircraft operators that their planes were being maintained, describing it as a complete lie, saying they only do line maintenance within South Sudan.
“You cannot go somewhere and park your aircraft and call for someone to come and check the plane, then you call that maintenance.”
He added that there are only two approved centres in Africa for Antonov maintenance: one in Sudan and the other in West Africa.
“So, in our case in the aviation authority, there is what we call that scheduled maintenance.” This is where you have to fly them to the centre of aircraft maintenance organisations that are approved internationally,” he stressed.
The official reiterated that all the Antonovs in Africa, whether in the West, East, Central, or North, were supposed to use those approved aircraft centres for their maintenance.
Lojulo said most planes operating in the country have never been taken for maintenance or to the design bureau for prolongations.
“We have been recommending to them that they be taken for maintenance every time, but our operators do not do that. I do not know [the reason] because of issues of finance; they do not go. “
He revealed most of the Antonov planes in the country have been in operation for at least 40 years without being taken for proper maintenance.
According to the SSCA boss, the maintenance of the aircraft is something that includes several processes for the plane to be safe.
Lojulo said the responsibility of loading the aircraft is the duty of the loadmaster and pilot of the particular company.
“The responsibility of loading of the aircraft is not in the hands of civil aviation, it is for the loadmaster for a particular company at the airport and the pilot in command. “We only need the records,” Lojulo explained.
He said there is always a maximum amount of cargo weight each plane can carry on a trip, and the loadmasters and pilots in command know it well.
“But here is something different, where sometimes you see a driver of a lorry full of cargo will be driving to the airport (apron) and off-loading the cargo from the trucker and taking it directly into the planes without weighing it.”
He said every aircraft has a Center of Gravity (CG) which determines the fate of the planes to be exposed to dangers.
“So, if any aircraft is overloaded, of course, what do you expect? “The CG changes, even if not overloading, but if the goods are not arranged well in the plane, it is likely to change the CG of the plane and expose the aircraft to risks,” he stressed.
He spoke about the lack of proper training for some crew members to fly the aircraft, saying most pilots are young and have not been getting everyday simulator training.
“Especially our pilots, most of them are young and have less than 10 years of experience, although they are qualified in command.”
He gave examples of the recent plane crashes, in Juba and Jonglei State’s Pieiri County, where all young pilots were involved.
“I am not saying that they are unqualified pilots, no… But when you stay long on the ground without monthly simulator training, that is where some pilots make some simple mistakes, especially with aircraft, ” he added.