By Desie Heita
The recent air crash in Swakopmund has jolted the Ministry of Works and Transport to take drastic measures against the small aircraft aviation sector.
The ministry says it would lean hard on operators of small aircraft and on local and foreign trained pilots of small aircraft in order to curb the negative impact on the tourism industry.
“We have come up with several measures to tackle these frequent accidents, one of which is strict inspection of small aircraft. We need to ensure that these aircraft are indeed fit to fly over the Namibian sky,” the ministry’s spokesperson, Julius Ngweda, told New Era.
The Directorate of Civil Aviation, which had in the past received flak for lack of skills, is to be staffed with necessary skills.
Five tourists survived an air crash near Swakopmund this week when a South African pilot tried to crash-land the aircraft following engine failure. The tourists wanted to have a last aerial view of the Sossusvlei Dunes.
The crash is the fourth small aircraft accident since October last year. In all four accidents, six tourists – five Israelis and one Italian – and two pilots were killed, while nine tourists – five Germans, two French, and two American nationals – survived in two separate near-fatal crashes.
“The [frequency of fatal crashes] can have an impact on tourism, especially that in all incidents the victims are tourists,” said Ngweda.
Ngweda said the Ministry is “aware of the speculations that young inexperienced South African trained pilots may be using Namibia as a training ground to boost their flying hours. We are investigating all these reports, as this can easily tarnish the image of our country. Only then will we be able to point it out with certainty,” said Ngweda. Three of the pilots were South African, while the fourth was a young Namibian pilot.
Statistics from the Directorate of Civil Aviation indicate that air incidence occurrences have been on the increase since 2005, half of which are attributed to human error. Incident occurrence refers to all air incidences including non-crashes distress calls, and any incidence during mid-air, take-off and landing.
In 2005, there were 78 aircraft incidence occurrences with 37 cases being through human error. The numbers of incidences in 2006 was 83, of which 44 were a result of human error. In 2007, a total of 89 incidences occurrences were registered of which 50 were caused by human fault.
“Most of the occurrences investigated by this directorate so far, revealed that causal factors are primarily as a result of human error,” the Directorate of Civil Aviation had earlier said. Human errors include mismanagement of fuel, not compensating for density altitude, lack of proper training, exceeding the performance limitations of the aircraft, overloading the aircraft, unapproved modification and flying in adverse weather conditions.
Ngweda said the investigations into the four crash accidents are almost complete and the ministry would make all investigation reports public. The investigation report in the latest crash “would be ready in a month’s time”.
The October 22 accident, in which a Namibian pilot and an Italian tourist perished, when a single-engine Beechcraft crashed near the Trade Centre building, east of the airport, after take-off from Eros Airport, is about to be wrapped up.
The January 11 fatal crash in Olympia residential area “is 90 percent complete”. In this accident, the Cessna 210 aircraft crashed east of the airport shortly after take-off for Mokuti Lodge. The 24-year-old South African pilot and five Israeli passengers were killed when the aircraft exploded in flames after the crash.