GEORGE NEWS - "It is safe to land at George Airport." This is how Brenda Vorster, George Airport manager, reacted to questions about planes landing at South African airports operating without a ground-based system used to guide planes to the ground in low visibility conditions.
The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) last week confirmed that two instrument landing systems (ILS) at OR Tambo have been switched off, and the same systems at a number of other airports have also been downgraded or switched off. George is one of these airports.
Vorster told George Herald that during bad or foggy weather pilots make the call to divert to another airport and will return when the weather has cleared.
An aviation expert from the Southern Cape, who asked to stay anonymous, said aircraft can land without ILS. He did emphasise that during bad weather, such as on Tuesday, legislation stipulates that planes are not allowed to land. The differentiation is made between visual flight conditions (normal weather) and instrument flight conditions (bad and foggy weather).
SACAA said following the fatal accident near George involving a SACAA aircraft and three crew members late in January, SACAA appointed a South African company to calibrate the landing and navigation equipment in the country. Due to the fact that the service provider was going to use an aircraft based in Europe, they experienced major delays in receiving a Foreign Operator's Permit from the International Air Service Licensing Council, which was eventually granted on 19 June.
Due to lockdown, the crew work permits and visas took extra time, and SACAA was eventually informed that these were granted on 31 July.
SACAA confirmed this week that the aircraft arrived at OR Tambo on Monday 17 August, and that the crew is currently under Covid-19 quarantine.
"We hope that if all goes according to plan, calibration should start this coming weekend, with the first calibration scheduled for Saturday 22 August. In addition, SACAA wishes to reiterate that the calibration programme will prioritise those airports that require urgent attention," said the report
SACAA says reports that aviation activities in South Africa are about to come to a screeching halt as a result of the ILS calibration status expiring at some airports, are devoid of all truth.
Regulated safety protocols require that when an ILS is not functioning, or its certification had expired, the affected airport must be downgraded to a lower instrument usage level. The ILS is just one of the few landing and take-off techniques that are used. You can still land without an ILS, however, visibility on the runway must be determined first.
OR Tambo International Airport has four ILSes, and on 10 August, two of these were switched off because the exemption period had lapsed. This airport therefore will neither be downgraded or closed as reported. King Shaka International Airport has also been downgraded to a lower instrument meteorological usage level as a result of two ILSes being switched off.
The only other airports affected are Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport and George Airport whose exemptions have also expired. The rest, even though they are also nearing expiry during the month of August, and later on in the year, are still operational.
To bring the expired ILSes back into service, calibration is needed in order to obtain the required performance accuracy.
The Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) said airports owned and managed by the company are open and operating safely while some ILSes need to be re-certified.
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