FlySafair grounds plane after technical issues

Folks on that April 5 flight ‘were obviously somewhat delayed…but one can understand the need to bring the aircraft down’: Kirby Gordon of FlySafair.

FIFI PETERS: We are taking aviation news now. FlySafair’s Boeing 737 400, which the airline voluntarily grounded after a technical error, could soon be released in the skies again, following some tests that were done on the flight this morning.

We’ve got Kirby Gordon, the chief marketing officer at FlySafair on this story. Kirby, thanks so much for your time. Just what is the situation presently?

KIRBY GORDON: Thanks Fifi, It’s always great to speak to you guys. Actually the aircraft was released back into service at 16:30 this afternoon. I don’t think it’s going to perform any flights today yet, but it’ll probably be back on the schedule for tomorrow.

FIFI PETERS: What took it off the schedule initially?

KIRBY GORDON: Fifi, on March 30 we had a flight that was operating from East London to Cape Town. When the crew took off, they got an indication error that there might be an issue with a small component on the wing. There are a number of sensors that are attached to all sorts of components and particular moving parts, which this was one of. And so they decided to make a precautionary landing in Port Elizabeth in order to investigate the situation. The guys reset the systems there. They did a full analysis of the part and everything was found to be absolutely operation normal. The aircraft then went on and took the folks to Cape Town and it conducted another 24 flights over the next few days. Eventually it was operating on the same route again and the crew received the same error.

So this time they did exactly the same thing. They landed as a precautionary matter, and went through the process of doing the checks on the ground. Again they couldn’t find [anything] wrong. So they went through the ground checks that were available in PE. But, because it was the second time, we decided we would rather act cautiously and pull in another aircraft to complete the actual flight and then bring the aircraft in question up to Johannesburg on an empty ferry flight in order to conduct a deeper analysis in our actual hangers.

FIFI PETERS: You say that everything has been cleared now, so I imagine even the Civil Aviation Authority was involved.

KIRBY GORDON: Yes, absolutely. Look, I mean the Civil Aviation Authority is involved in absolutely everything that we do. So whenever there’s a snag of any variety, whether it’s a broken light bulb or something more significant, we’d literally notify the Civil Aviation Authority and keep them close to all the work that we do – so they were very much involved in this. Then we actually asked them to please take a look and find this out as well, which they have since done. As I said, about 06:30 I think that paperwork finally came through.

FIFI PETERS: But just given that it has happened twice, what stops it from happening again?

KIRBY GORDON: Well, I think the fact that we actually diverted and took a good look and took it off the line, and did all of the work that we needed to do, is what stops it from happening again. At the moment aviation safety for good reason in South Africa is very much under the spotlight and, while of course we take absolutely every incident hugely or treat it as very important, the reality is that this is a fairly mundane occurrence in the world of aviation. Aircraft are machines, things happen to them and obviously no one ever wants anything catastrophic to happen, but there is basic wear and tear – and maintenance that needs to be done.

I think the reality is that we need to keep that in mind and not necessarily run to panic stations when it comes to air travel. South Africa has a fantastic aviation-safety track record. Our aviation authority is really one of the top in the world in terms of maintaining that track record. To boast, FlySafair has a technical dispatch reliability of over 99%, which is what actually fuels our fantastic on-time performance. We wouldn’t be able to do that if we didn’t have properly maintained aircraft.

FIFI PETERS: Were any of your passengers disrupted by the initial grounding?

KIRBY GORDON: No. As for the folks who were on that very initial flight, the one on April 5, when we took it down they were obviously somewhat delayed. Because we had to ferry down an aircraft from Johannesburg to fetch them in Port Elizabeth and take them on to Cape Town, I think they at that point endured about a four-hour delay, which is obviously quite heavy; but one can understand the need to bring the aircraft down. Fortunately they were all looked after on the ground and very patient and very kind of thankful for the fact that we were putting safety first. But there was no other disruption to the schedule as a result of that aircraft coming off. We just deployed a standby aircraft.

FIFI PETERS: And what about perhaps even any disruptions to the business in itself in the form of lost ticket sales as a result? Were they significant?

KIRBY GORDON: No. Look, there are significant costs that need to be considered when one diverts. I think it’s often underestimated, but the process of landing and taking off is really when a great deal of the fuel on board an aircraft is actually consumed. So the simple act of diverting as we did, and landing in Port Elizabeth, and then even just departing again, as was the case the first time, can rack up a bill of about R120 000, R130 000……[check]5:00 pretty quickly. But obviously it’s never about the money. It’s always about doing the right thing and ensuring that you put safety first. So that was an expense that the business had to endure, but it’s not of consequence.

FIFI PETERS: All right. Kirby, thanks so much for your time. We will leave it there. Kirby Gordon is the chief marketing officer at FlySafair.

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