Cape Town – A cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the validity of the licences of South Africa’s 14 000 aircraft and the pilots' licences of the country’s estimated 10 000 commercial and general pilots.
It has been confirmed that the acting head of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Zakhele Twala, had been acting in an irregular capacity for at least the last six months of his tenure.
The country’s Aviation Act determines that the position may not be filled in an acting capacity for longer than 12 months.
Twala had been appointed in an acting capacity for more than 18 months and as such did not have the authority to issue or renew licences.
He was removed from this position last month by the minister of transport after the department became aware of the issue.
DA MP Ian Ollis said the issue raises serious concerns regarding pilot competency and aircraft safety, and increases the aviation sector’s insurance risk.
Ollis said there are also some concerns around Twala’s competency during his tenure.
“Why was he he not appointed on a permanent basis? Asking the question in parliament this week we were told that 'there were some reasons'. Deputy Transport Minister Lydia Chikunga and her DG refused to elaborate on what these reasons were,” said Ollis.
He said it can therefore be surmised that this failure to appoint Twala to a permanent position implies that he is either unqualified or in some way unsuitable for the job.
“It follows therefore that for the past 18 months, the CAA has been led by someone not properly equipped to do the job.”
Chikunga said if someone is appointed in an acting capacity, they are not automatically entitled to a full-time position.
She told Fin24 that the reason Twala was not appointed full-time was simply because “he had been acting for 18 months and according to law no one may act longer than 12 months”.
Ollis said the CAA has been spiralling downward for a number of years.
“Over the past three years, there have been 383 air traffic accidents reported in South Africa in which 45 people have died.
"The CAA needs to get its act together fast in order to reverse this trend and avoid laying itself bare to insurance disputes arising from a technicality. “