Is Caaz sleeping on the wheel?

EDITORIAL

AS we congratulate Air Zimbabwe for purchasing a new plane to remain in the skies, we would like also to commend the national carrier’s “never die” spirit, which all Zimbabweans need to emulate, especially in these very trying times.

Although the plane that landed raised eyebrows, because it was curiously branded in the colours of a controversial airline, Zim Airways — whose origins and disappearance without having even carried a single passenger is a story for another day — we would like to commend those at the Transport ministry for tirelessly working to keep our national pride in the sky.

We, however, wish to draw the authorities’ attention, especially those at the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz), to the critical issue of safety. Before Air Zimbabwe took delivery of the new bird, an Embraer ERJ-145, the national carrier’s only workhorse — a Boeing 737-200 — had been involved in two mishaps that could have ended in Zimbabwe’s first major aviation disaster since independence in 1980.

First, it was involved in a mid-air bird strike after flying out of Bulawayo’s Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport, enroute to Harare last Friday. Although the plane safely landed at Robert Gabriel Mugabe (RGM) International Airport in one piece, the sparks that flew out of the plane’s engines when it hit a flock of birds scared the wits out of the passengers.

Then, three days later on Sunday evening, the same plane had a brief malfunction in one of its engines which caused yet another scare when fire popped out of the engine as it flew out of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, again enroute to RGM International Airport.

Herein lies the crux of our concern. When that plane experienced the first fire, it should have been grounded for days while engineers dissected it to ascertain whether or not there was serious damage to the plane’s engines or even the fuselage itself, because a bird hitting a plane in flight can act like a bullet.

But, desperate to honour their schedules, the airline was forced back into the sky. We, therefore, wish to say to those at Caaz and the Transport ministry, in future it would be prudent for them to ground and institute A or B-Checks on the plane. And an A Check, needing 50-70 man-hours or a minimum of 10 hours, is normally carried out after approximately every 400-600 flight-hours or 200–300 flight cycles (take-off and landing is considered an aircraft “cycle”), depending on aircraft type. A B-Check, needing about 160-180 man-hours or one to three
days, is usually done after every six to eight months.

While we are not privy to whether or not the A-Check, at the least, was done, allow us to doubt that this was ever done. Just being lay people in terms of aviation issues, we have reasonable suspicion that some dead bird could have been still lodged in the cavity of the plane’s engine and were dislodged when the plane took off from OR.

With Air Zimbabwe said to be on a rebound, we hope authorities will, from henceforth, become more strict with these issues that pose a threat to passengers and the crew. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before a major disaster befalls us and our airline if the current casual modus operandi at Caaz and Air Zimbabwe is maintained. It appears as if Caaz is presently sleeping on the wheel.

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