A scandal that could have harsh negative international and financial repercussions erupted when an Air Namibia aircraft got stuck on the apron of the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg for nearly six hours after four flight crew members were prevented from boarding the aeroplane because they were too drunk to safely conduct their duties.
Besides the inconvenience caused to passengers, the delay of the early morning flight from Johannesburg to the Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek on Monday also severely delayed connecting flights to Angola and the economic centres of West Africa.
Mr. Paul Nakawa, Air Namibia’s Manager of Corporate Communications, confirmed that the operations of flight SW722 were severely delayed due to the incident involving the intoxicated flight crew members.
“On Monday, 17 December 2018, Air Namibia conducted a random alcohol test before the crew could board the aircraft to Windhoek and two cabin crew members and one first officer tested positive for excess alcohol. One cabin crew member refused to take the breathalyzer test. None the less the four flight crew members were immediately removed from their flying duties, as they were unfit to safely carry out their duties.”
Nakawa said Air Namibia was forced to send a fresh crew from Windhoek to operate the flight. This resulted in a five hour and 52 minutes delay in the flight.
“This incident also had a negative impact on flights from Windhoek to Luanda and Windhoek to Lagos and Accra in West Africa, delaying connecting flights with up to seven hours.”
He said the four crew members were flown to Windhoek as passengers and upon their arrival in Windhoek, the crew members who tested positive for excess alcohol were presented with the allegations leveled against them, and were given 24 hours to supply reasons in writing as to why the national airline should not suspend them.
Nakawa said the actions of the crew members were against the state owned company’s policies and international aviation regulations. The crew members specifically breached the regulations of the Air Namibia Cabin Crew Manual, that states under section 4.12. Alcohol and Drugs: Cabin Crew (NAMCAR 121.02.2) that cabin and flight crew are not permitted to consume alcohol in any form for eight hours prior to their duty period, including crew on standby, and while commuting prior to operating a flight in the same duty period or split duty period. Operating Cabin Crew will not, under any circumstances, be permitted to consume alcohol on board Air Namibia aeroplanes.
“I can also confirm that the four crew members were suspended on Wednesday, 19 December 2018, pending a disciplinary process. All four flight crew members signed off their suspension letters.”
Nakawa elaborated on Air Namibia’s position and said that the airline being the national flag carrier has to comply with all local and international regulations and thus does everything within its powers to ensure safe operations.
“Safety is at the heart of our operations. We do not condone such behaviour hence the reason why the airline acted swiftly and severely to this unfortunate incident. The people we put on our aircraft must adhere to international standards of ICAO at all times, and our manuals are clear on flight crew’s conduct.”
He said flight crew members also attend recurrent training to ensure that they are up to speed with their responsibilities. The airline conducts line checks and has various checks and balances in place to ensure that the safety of its passengers, crew and aircraft.
Nakawa stated that Air Namibia will continue to conduct regular ad-hoc tests for drugs and alcohol, suitability of its crew and their general conduct on board.
“Crew members are not only servants of tea and coffee, they are Safety Officers first. And that is why you will find that our safety record as an airline is impeccable. To this end, we do what is required from us as a responsible airline. But unfortunately, when we have done everything that we could, we cannot take further responsibility for our staff that breaches the provisions of their employment contracts.”
According to Nakawa the decisions taken by those staff members was their own personal choice, and they have to take responsibility for their actions.
“We hereby wish to sincerely apologise and reassure our passengers that it is indeed safe to fly with Air Namibia. We are conscious of the safety of our passengers, and would never release an aircraft to the skies if it is not safe to do so. We thank the flying public for trusting us with this responsibility that we carry out with pride, utmost care and diligence.”
Nakawa did not identify the three crew members of the first officer who were suspended because of their scandalous conduct.