Pilot threat probe 'exhausted'

06 November 2018 | Transport

Air Namibia said it has “for now” comprehensively exhausted an investigation into a possible safety threat after Canadian citizen Captain Hossein Ashrafi was allegedly overheard as having threatened to crash a plane should the airline dismiss or take any action against him.

It said the investigation could be reopened if people were prepared to come forward with more tangible evidence. For now, Air Namibia said, the statements allegedly made by Ashrafi could not be proven and the allegations were nothing more than rumours swirling around the corridors of the company.

Acting managing director Mandy Samson launched an investigation on 28 September, immediately after pilot Manuel Prenzlow, president of the Namibia Airline Pilots Association (NAPA), wrote a letter about his concern over the alleged statement by Ashrafi.

Ashrafi was immediately grounded but was put on flying duty on 29 October after the investigation came up dry.

The NAPA president said in his letter that Ashrafi had made statements “of a similar nature” before, which he said was common knowledge to cabin crew and some cockpit crew.

Prenzlow said NAPA had raised concerns regarding Ashrafi in the past, “with no consequences whatsoever” from Samson's office.

“The situation has now become one of extreme importance and a cause of serious concern regarding our colleagues and indeed the population at large,” he wrote.

Prenzlow's letter stated that the alleged statements warranted immediate action because Ashrafi occupied a managerial position.





He asked that Ashrafi be removed from any flying duty until the matter was thoroughly investigated.

Ashrafi allegedly made the comments in the company of other Air Namibia personnel on a company bus travelling from Hosea Kutako International Airport to Windhoek.

Ashrafi had complained about his grounding through the law firm Tjombe & Elago.

Lawyer Norman Tjombe said the allegations against Ashrafi appeared to be “hearsay on top of hearsay”.



Investigation

On the same day Ashrafi was grounded Samson instituted an investigating panel consisting of the airline's heads of safety, security and quality assurance.

The panel requested sworn statements from Prenzlow, which the airline said could not properly justify the allegations to enable the airline to make an informed assessment on the balance of probabilities.

“In view of the fact that the airline was provided with little or no information with which to make a substantive conclusion, the airline is in no position to give credence to the allegations as received and, on that basis, allowed Captain Ashrafi to resume his flying duties,” Air Namibia spokesperson Paulus Nakawa said.

The acting general manager of flight operations, Captain William Ekandjo, wrote on 29 October that the panel had found “no merits or supporting facts” regarding Ashrafi's alleged threats.

Ekandjo wrote: “Based on the number of years that Captain Ashrafi has been working for Air Namibia, and the report conclusion, I am confident to reinstate Captain Ashrafi to full flying duties as per his contract.”

Nakawa said Prenzlow had made a “very unsubstantiated allegation”, which he said could be defined as “hearsay in the classic sense” and the airline therefore saw “no need” to subject Ashrafi to a psychological evaluation as part of the investigation.

Nakawa said Ashrafi was “fit to fly and holds a valid medical certificate for that purpose”.

Nakawa said Prenzlow could not prove his allegations and therefore should not have made them.

“He [Prenzlow] declared under oath before a commissioner of oaths that he had overheard people talking about something which they had overheard,” Nakawa said.

He said Air Namibia was complying with “the rules of the game” and that is why the airline is one of the few African carriers permitted to fly in European airspace and was also granted rights to fly to the United States of America.

Prenzlow said Air Namibia is lying that he made “unsubstantiated” allegations.

“I strongly object to the allegation that I accused anybody of anything. I merely reported a matter which I overheard being discussed in the crew bus. I merely reported a possible safety hazard that could have dire consequences,” he said.

Prenzlow said other colleagues who have knowledge of this matter are reluctant to come forward for fear of victimisation.



Contested position

Nakawa said the allegations might have been made to tarnish Ashrafi's name because he the position he holds – head of training – is highly sought after and contested.

He said the airline had received complaints against highly decorated pilots who formerly held that position.



He made reference to the reported case of Zimbabwean Captain Paul Muchatuta, who in November 2016 was alleged to have run naked through the corridors of a hotel in Frankfurt and forced himself into a room of other hotel guests.

No evidence could be found but Muchatuta eventually had to leave the airline.

Nakawa said it is a disciplinable offence to make unsubstantiated allegations that can bring the company into disrepute.

CATHERINE SASMAN

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