It is not possible that the current and former Qantas airline pilots, with more than 37,000 hours’ flying time between them, were not licensed to fly the Convair aircraft that slammed into the ground killing two people near Wonderboom Airport last month.
According to aviation expert and former airline pilot Karl Jensen, the co-pilot’s licence at least was valid and correctly endorsed.
He cited several other problems with the preliminary report on the crash issued by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) over the weekend.
Jensen noted that both the pilot and first officer had qualified on the plane a short while before they flew its sister to Australia in 2016.
“It was a massive journey and there wasn’t a single problem. It was absolutely fine,” he added.
He said the aircraft that crashed had been standing around in the open and “who knows what was interfered with”, given that one engine disintegrated shortly after take-off, but that it should have been able to fly on one engine.
The climb rate would have been slower on one engine, but the plane should have been able to stay in the air, he added.
“A very serious omission [in the report] is the lack of analysis of the fuel and of the internal guts of the engine,” Jensen said. “In that situation, in all emergency procedures on all aeroplanes, the first thing you do is fly the aeroplane. Aviate, navigate, communicate. That is the mantra pilots learn and have to apply.
“It does appear those guys were battling to keep the plane in the air and, playing devil’s advocate, maybe they didn’t apply the line-by-line emergency procedures because they didn’t have the time.”
He explained that once an engine shut down it was not always possible to get it back on.
“Under those circumstances they would have been under extreme stress.
“I flew that exact aeroplane in 2006, and its sister ship, so my knowledge of the plane is extensive. The licensed aircraft maintenance engineer, Christo Barnard, was extremely competent.
“I can’t comment on how much he operated the engines but, as they said in the report, it was common practice in the days of Rovos (the previous owners of the downed Convair) that we had someone there to help us,” Jensen said.
“The aeroplane was a handful. I’ve flown all the Boeing planes and the biggest one, the 747-400, was a breeze compared to the engine handling of the Convair.”
He said modern jet engines, which have far fewer working parts, were much more reliable than radial engines.
“Until the final report comes out, which the aviation authority has to put out in less than 30 days, the preliminary report isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
“Without analysis of the fuel and the damage to both engines, no conclusions should be drawn. Those engines always bring people home.”