South African Airways Goes After Pilot Who Held Wrong License

(Bloomberg) -- South African Airways has laid fraud charges against a former pilot after finding out that he operated international flights with the wrong type of license.

SAA is seeking to reclaim “millions of rand” paid to the aviator on the assumption that he held an Airline Transport Pilot License, it said in a statement Friday. Following an incident involving a flight to Germany last year, it was found that he possessed only a basic Commercial Pilot License, it said.

Airlines require the more comprehensive ATPL for international flights.

“SAA has suffered actual financial prejudice and has opened a criminal case of fraud against that pilot,” said Tlali Tlali, a spokesman for unprofitable state-owned airline. “Necessary steps will be taken to recover the money unduly paid to him. These include salary, overtime and allowances.”

The discrepancy was revealed during the investigation of an incident in which an Airbus SE A340-600 encountered turbulence over the Swiss Alps en route to Frankfurt. The disturbance put it the jet an “over-speed condition,” SAA said, and the pilots were forced to perform a maneuver to regain stable flying. The plane landed safely and was found to be airworthy and properly maintained.

The case is a minor headache for SAA compared with its financial woes as debt of 9.2 billion rand ($653 million) comes due at the end of this month. The carrier received a government bailout last year to meet an earlier repayment obligation, and is striving to turn itself around after seven years of losses.

To prevent other pilots from flying without an ATPL, SAA will now obtain all pilot qualification certificates directly from the examination authority, the airline said. It’s also submitted all current pilot licenses to the South African Civil Aviation Authority for checks.

“We find it disconcerting that misrepresentations were made about the type of license that the pilot claimed to possess,” said Tlali.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.