A recent report from the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation has brought to light a critical incident that occurred in 2018 involving an Airbus A340-346 operated by South African Airways (SAA). The incident, which was classified as “serious,” occurred during a flight from Johannesburg to Frankfurt and was caused by abrupt high-altitude wind changes that caught the flight crew off guard.
The investigation found that the pilots’ training simulator did not accurately replicate the specific wind conditions that the aircraft encountered during the flight. Consequently, the flight crew’s reaction to the sudden wind shift was inadequate, pushing the plane dangerously close to stalling. Moreover, it emerged that the software update issued by the aircraft manufacturer in 2006, which might have addressed this training gap, wasn’t installed. The report criticized the airline for this oversight, stating, “The training department should have noticed and remedied this deficit,” pointing out the lack of training materials to guide pilots in handling such emergencies.
The incident unfolded over Clariden, Switzerland, and at its peak, the aircraft momentarily lost control, exceeding its top operating speed. The commanding pilot took immediate action by disengaging the autopilot and manually regaining control. Despite the aircraft’s built-in high-speed protections, the stall warning system was triggered multiple times, indicating the severity of the situation.
The investigation revealed that the crew’s coordination during the crisis was less than optimal, particularly in analyzing the situation and executing corrective procedures. It was also discovered that one of the co-pilots did not meet the licensing requirements for commercial operations, further adding to the complexities of the incident.
SAA, in its official response to the report’s publication last Thursday, acknowledged the document but clarified that it had not officially received it yet. “Both SAA and the SA Civil Aviation Authority had previously completed and provided input to the German Investigative Authority prior to business rescue and subsequent restructuring. Initial mitigations identified were implemented and have been recognised in the final report. The final report has been concluded with comments from stakeholders,” it said.
The airline also clarified that the incident occurred prior to its recent restructuring and new leadership, implying that the new measures put in place aim to address and prevent such issues in the future.