SAA presses fraud charges against former pilot for false licence claims

15th March 2019 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

South African Airways (SAA) has announced that it has laid criminal charges against a former pilot and will seek to recoup millions of rands paid to him during the time he worked at the airline, which he received on the basis of false claims regarding his qualifications. He had claimed to have an airline transport pilot licence (ATPL), which he did not, in fact, possess. He did, however, have a valid commercial pilot licence (CPL), which qualified him to fly an airliner.

SAA requires that all its pilots obtain an ATPL within five years of joining the airline. Possession of this licence is essential for promotion to Senior First Officer (SFO) status. The pilot concerned falsely claimed to have an ATPL and was promoted to SFO as a result. An ATPL allows a pilot to be the captain (pilot-in-command) of a commercial airliner, while a CPL allows a pilot to fly a commercial airliner but not captain it – to be a copilot, in other words.

“We take note that at no point did the alleged fraudulent licence present any safety risk to SAA’s operation as the pilot in question was in possession of a valid CPL,” highlighted SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali. “The pilot had successfully completed all required safety training. However, we find it disconcerting that misrepresentations were made about the type of licence that the pilot claimed to possess.”

The pilot’s lack of an ATPL emerged during a standard safety investigation, following an incident over Germany last November. While operating flight SA260 to Frankfurt, an SAA Airbus A340-600 encountered a high-altitude atmospheric disturbance, which put it into what SAA calls an ‘over-speed condition’, requiring “a recovery manoeuvre to regain stable flying conditions”. Following standard procedure, the flight crew were grounded for reassessment and re-evaluation. This led to the uncovering of the SFO’s false claim to have an ATPL. He subsequently resigned from the airline.

“SAA has suffered actual financial prejudice and has opened a criminal case of fraud against that pilot,” pointed out Tlali. “The necessary steps will be taken to recover the money paid to him. This includes salary, overtime and allowances.”

Previously, candidates who passed the ATPL would present their certificates to SAA. In future, SAA will source the results and certificates directly from the relevant examining authorities – in South Africa, that is the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

“We have submitted all SAA pilots’ licensing files to the SACAA for verification and audit,” he reported. “On the basis of a sample that has been selected for audit, the SACAA has indicated that the verification process is progressing well and no irregularities have been identified to date.”