South African Airways Flies With Water In The Fuel Tanks, Engines Surge

Three months ago a South African Airways Airbus A330 from Accra, Ghana to Johannesburg reported both engines surging while over Botswana. The aircraft, with 209 people on board, continued the final 50 minutes to Johannesburg even as surges continued on final approach.

The flight had been rescheduled from the previous day after fuel had been found contaminated with “high quantities of water” and engines wouldn’t start once the aircraft pushed back. Water was drained from the fuel tank and they tried the flight again. The flight’s captain was involved in an incident two months prior (South African Airways calls criticisms of the pilot “racist prejudice”).

The plane spent a month on the ground. There fuel system was highly contaminated and all of the aircraft’s fuel pumps required replacement.

Reportedly the airline had just changed fuel suppliers in Accra. And after water had been drained from the fuel system, the aircraft was signed off for a ferry flight back to South Africa – with no passengers – but a full complement of passengers was loaded anyway.

Fighting back and forth in the media between the airlines and critics, often discussing past accidents in the airline’s long history, makes as much sense as when Ariana Afghan Airways pointed to its founding in cooperation with Pan Am as support for its safety. The airline has a recent history of cronyism and incompetence, weighed against general confidence in Star Alliance’s auditing procedures (out of fear that safety problems with one of its members could damage the reputation of the alliance and its other members). The newly-capitalized airline, though, needs to build confidence in its procedures and has had multiple highly publicized issues already this year.

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