The highs and lows of SA air travel in 2017

2017-12-06 21:00 - Gabi Zietsman
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SAA planes lined at at an airport

State-owned airline SAA carried 6.9 million passengers in the year ending March 2016.

Cape Town - The SA aviation industry has had an interesting year. Pilot strikes hit Mango and SAA, local airline Kulula turned 16 and two planes had an engine failure that luckily didn’t end in tragedies.

SEE: #AfriTravel: Youth the future of African airlines

Although South Africa and the rest of the content is struggling with maintaining the skills pool of local up-and-coming pilots and aviation staff, SAA managed to scoop an Apex award and Flysafair received recognition for the 'most on time' airline in the world.

Here are a few of the interesting, terrifying and coolest local aviation stories of 2017.

Mango plane's engine damaged in bird strike at OR Tambo

A Mango flight had to turn-around after one of the plane’s engines was damaged just after take-off from Joburg's OR Tambo in an apparent bird strike on 19 November. 

Wheels24 editor Sergio Davids who was travelling on board the flight shared pics of the incident.

"I could hear the impact, followed by the horrid smell of smoke in the cabin."

The co-pilot then came out and checked the engine and ran back to the cockpit, Davids told Traveller24. “He just went wide-eyed.”

"Shortly thereafter the pilot announced, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we've suffered a bird strike. Please remain calm. We cannot continue on our way to Cape Town and have to turn around. The engine suffered damage but we will be fine to make it back.'"

Luckily everyone made it safely to the ground, with a few jokes about needing a flock of hawks for the next flight.

WATCH: Mango plane's engine damaged in bird strike at OR Tambo

Airlink passenger shares account of 'massive explosion' ahead of emergency landing

An Airlink plane flying from Harare to Johannesburg had to make an emergency landing following engine failure in […]..

According to a press statement, the AVRO RJ85 airliner on flight SA8103, with 34 passengers and four crew members, had to make the emergency landing at OR Tambo International Airport after two out of four engines failed.

However, to say that Airlink flight AVRO RJ85 from Harare just had 'engine failure'  is a gross understatement, according to one passenger on board the plane.

Clint Scriven was one of the 34 passengers, and he told Traveller24 that the incident was much more serious than indicated by the airline.

"When we started our descent for the runway the cabin lights were switched off and hostesses were shouting repeatedly 'brace, brace, emergency landing'. Passengers were praying out aloud, it was an extremely scary experience."

"When we landed they tried to prevent us from taking pictures. The engines were torn apart like tin-cans."

Scriven managed to take a video of the damage after landing, and posted it to his Instagram account. You can see a big hole on the side of one of the engines.

SEE: Airlink passenger shares account of 'massive explosion' ahead of emergency landing

A post shared by Clint Scriven (@screwball69) on

Inaugural trip to St Helena - the island in the middle of nowhere

St Helena Government (SHG) and SA Airlink made their inaugural flight from Johannesburg to the lonely island this year, starting in October. It has a stopover in Windhoek, Namibia, before completing its six hour trip to St Helena.

According to AP, larger aircraft can land at the airport but with weight restrictions, meaning fewer passengers. SA Airlink's smaller Embraer E190 carried nearly 80 passengers, including "Saints" - the nickname for people from St. Helena - tour operators from South Africa and journalists.

Ticket prices start at £804 (including taxes – about R14 504 @R18.04/£) for an economy return fare on the Johannesburg route and £846 (including taxes – R15 261) on the Cape Town route.

It's mostly known as the island where Napoleon Bonaparte was banished into exile, and was previously only accessible by boat.

SEE: St Helena: The island that time forgot

SAA and Air Zim tiff over permits

SAA and Air Zimbabwe had an interesting time with one weekend of cancelled flights and non-compliance coincidences, which resulted in the cancellation of flights between the two countries for two days.

The issues centred on non-compliance with both airline operators needing to be in possession of a Foreign Operator’s Permit to conduct operations into South Africa or Zimbabwe.

The South African Civil Aiviation Authority said a copy of the Foreign Operator’s Permit, together with other documents, must be on-board an aircraft at all times, and made available for inspection on request by the relevant authorities. 

Both luckily submitted the necessary compliance documents to resume flights, and had a lot of angry passengers to apologise to.

SEE: SAA resumes Zim flights, what affected travellers need to know 

OR Tambo security issues

The Johannesburg airport had the most interesting year. Despite multiple drug busts, catching wildlife smugglers and even making it on the Top 30 list for best global excellence, the airport's image has been tainted by multiple follow-home robberies of foreign tourists, with one incident even involving diplomats. It even led to a safety alert for travellers from the US.

A security task team was appointed, with plans that included vetting 35 000 employees and included road blocks and limited access to the airport.

SEE: OR Tambo follow-home arrests: ‘Expect more heightened security’

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