South African Airways probed after “take-off blunder” on covid vaccine flight to Brussels, Belgium

On 25 February, South African Airways operated an Airbus A340-600 (registered ZS-SNG) from Johannesburg, South Africa to Brussels, Belgium to fetch the much wanted Covid-19 vaccines. During take-off at Johannesburg, however, the aircraft activated the so-called Alpha Floor protection, an automatic system that prevents stalling and guards against the effects of wind shear. 

South African Airways Airbus A340-600 at Brussels to fetch Covid-19 vaccines

According to information received by The Aviation Herald, the flight crew created a manual flight plan for the trip to Brussels. It is being claimed that there was confusion on the takeoff mass computation being about 90 tonnes below the actual takeoff mass.

While the error did not result in a catastrophe, or even come close to one, in the aviation industry any such incident is automatically reported – by the plane systems to Rolls Royce (engine manufacturer) and Airbus (airframe manufacturer), which receive thousands of such messages on a daily basis said news site The Business Maverick.

In addition, the event must be automatically reported by the pilot and co-pilot to the airline (SAA, in this case), which must then inform the South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa). It is Sacaa’s responsibility to conduct an investigation – even if the pilots deem the incident insignificant. It is part of the safety protocol.

According to information received by The Aviation Herald, the crew denied the occurrence and even stated: “The aircraft lied!“. The crew also refused to participate in a meeting on 16 March 2021 intended to discuss the occurrence.

According to Sacaa, aviation accidents “must be reported within 24 hours, serious incidents within 48 hours, and incidents within 72 hours”. But Sacaa confirmed that it was only informed about the SAA “alpha floor protection” incident on 17 March, three weeks after it occurred.


Bart Noëth: Bart has been working in the Belgian aviation industry since 1996. He is also a voluntary firefighter. If he is not in the air or fighting fires, he is spending his time with his rugrats, family and friends. He loves to travel, wines and dines and supports his favourite football squad KV Mechelen. He is an Ironman 70.3 finisher and dreams of completing a full distance.
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