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We don't use fake parts, says SAA as safety watchdog probes midair emergency

A Mango Boeing 737 similar to the one that made an emergency landing after turning back to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on September 2 2019.
A Mango Boeing 737 similar to the one that made an emergency landing after turning back to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on September 2 2019.
Image: Tiso Blackstar archive

SAA Technical does not use fake parts on aircraft it services, the airline’s board of directors said on Thursday.

The board issued a statement in response to a Sowetan's sister publication  Sunday Times report on a Mango flight’s emergency landing at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in September.

A preliminary "serious incident report" by the Civil Aviation Authority highlighted a defective replacement motor with a service history that "could not be determined with certainty".

In a statement issued by SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali on Thursday, the board said: "We wish to assure customers that all components and parts are procured from approved suppliers and all supporting documentation complies with CAA requirements on components."

Vusi Pikoli, SAA’s chief risk and compliance officer
Vusi Pikoli, SAA’s chief risk and compliance officer
Image: Supplied

The board also denied claims by SAA’s legal, risk and compliance executive, Vusi Pikoli, that the airline had been infiltrated by an international crime syndicate that had looted hundreds of millions of rands through questionable tenders, including the supply of possibly suspect parts.

"It is untrue that there is a known international crime syndicate that has infiltrated SAA or SAA Technical that is responsible for tender manipulation and/or corruption at SAA or SAAT," the statement read.

Pikoli told the Sunday Times the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had revived organised crime and serious corruption investigations at the airline. These stemmed from nine audit reports that were previously suppressed, he said.

A "massive" investigation involving international law enforcement and aviation regulatory authorities was under way into a sophisticated syndicate "which includes senior SAA procurement executives", Pikoli said.

Hawks and SAA sources said those under investigation included US and French aviation supply and maintenance companies, including their staff in SA.

The SAA statement did not explain why the CAA’s preliminary investigation of the Mango incident on September 2 had struggled to determine the history of the motor that failed.

"The component ... was legitimately procured from the original equipment manufacturer [OEM] of Boeing 737-800 aircraft," its statement read.

"SAA Technical received the part from the manufacturer on August 5 2019. It was fitted on Mango’s aircraft on August 7 2019 and failed after 96 flights and 125 hours of operation.

"We are awaiting feedback from the OEM, to whom the failed component has been returned to establish the cause of the component failure. Mango and SAA Technical are providing the required assistance to the CAA in progressing their investigation."

The board said none of the independent oversight audits Mango had performed over SAA Technical had produced any concern over traceability of parts.

"In all my career spanning 20 years of flying for different airlines, including six years within management in Mango Airlines, I have never been made aware, nor have I ever heard any rumours of bogus or untraceable parts being used by SAA Technical or in relation to Mango aircraft”, said Captain Juan Naude, director of flight operations for Mango.

The Sunday Times report said there was no indication that the replacement part on the Mango flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town was linked to irregular procurement, but said its missing service history had prompted criticism of SAA Technical on the country’s leading online aviation forum, Avcom.

Tlali told the newspaper SAA was addressing "systemic performance issues" at SAA Technical, including a full "workshops repair and overhaul capability review".

Comair said it had terminated its relationship with SAA Technical because "well-documented problems with maintenance scheduling and parts inventory at SAA Technical had a direct impact on [our] on-time operations, financial performance and customer relations".

Hawks spokesperson Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi told the Sunday Times there were "numerous" active investigations of fraud and serious corruption at SAA, some dating back to 2017 and others that were opened this year.