- Ordered passenger-carrying plane to perform stunt at Lekhubu
- Pilots shocked by “reckless” instruction
- Stunt violated international aviation rules
- “CAAB approved the stunt”-Air Botswana
The week Khama forced the Masire family to lay the great statesman to rest in a hurry, he wanted to clear his schedule to go and have fun with his foreigner friends at his annual aviation games for which the state coughed up P2 million. Air Botswana was also taken for a risky ride at the event, in turn violating international aviation safety laws.
On Thursday 29 June 2017, President Sir Ketumile Masire was laid to rest in Kanye. That same night Senior Pilots at Air Botswana received a peculiar instruction from the Office of the President to divert its commercial flight en-route to Maun for a fun fly past at the Race for Rhinos.
It was that controversial week when news circulated saying that President Ian Khama had broken ranks with the Masire family over the burial dates of the founding statesman, citing the need to attend an important event.
HOW DID IT HAPPEN
On 01 July 2017 Air Botswana commercial flight BP030 (ATR 42-500) carrying 34 passengers and crew flew 500ft close to ground at the Race for Rhinos in Lekhubu performing a stunt to entertain President Ian Khama and his friends.
Insiders who spoke to this publication have cited issues of violations of international civil aviation laws and abuse of office for personal amusement while endangering the lives of pilots and passengers by those in power.
The Botswana Gazette understands that the local airspace regulator, CAAB, approved the airliner’s route change at the eleventh hour on Friday 30th June to coincide with the Race for Rhinos aviation show on Saturday 1st July.
The instruction which reached the pilot who was unprepared for such directives, is said to have came from the Office of President Khama with a request for confirmation of route coordinates of the new flight plan that same night.
Information passed to this publication shows an insider expressing shock at the instruction given to one of the Senior Captains, “We’ve been directed to make a fly past that area (Lekhubu) on our way to Maun from Gaborone,” reads the communication. “Directed by who? And how? You descend and make fly past with passengers on board? An airline?” he asked in the communication-and the pilot responded, “Yep! Straight from OP.”
“How can the office of the President direct an airline passenger plane to make a fly past with passengers to add to their fun on the ground? Really?” Information shows the insider asking pilot in their communication.
Using FlightRadar24 App, The Botswana Gazette was able to track the plane on July 1st as it taxied and took off Sir Seretse Khama International Airport on its way to Maun but with specific instruction to make a detour and fly close to the ground to entertain revellers at the Lekhubu event. The flight tracker provides specific details such as flight altitude, speed, degree angle of the plane, aircraft type and GPS tracking of the flight’s movements.
A source told this publication that, “So they will then descend and make a fly past at Lekhubu where Khama will be there with his friends. It’s entertainment for them.” Air Botswana spokesperson Thabiso Leshoai has confirmed the incident but stated that the permission was granted by the aviation authority CAAB and did not state the extra costs of the detour stunt.
“A preapproval was sought and granted by the authority. You may recall, Air Botswana also performed low level fly-pasts last year at the 50 years celebrations over the National Stadium, again with the CAAB’s approval.” Leshoai avoided explaining that during the 50 years celebrations the low fly pasts were conducted without passengers on board the planes.
He also did not clarify the flouting of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 2 regulations that, “Commercial flights are not allowed to fly that low at 1000ft altitudes except during takeoff and landing with passengers on board” and the following:
2) Minimum flight altitude on an Instrument Flight Rules flight is 1000 feet above highest obstacle within 8km radius of the aircraft. The altitude is increased to 2000 feet in a mountainous area.
3) The lowest flight level in Botswana is 7000 feet. All Air Botswana flight are conducted under IFR.
“For Air Botswana flight BP 030 from Gaborone to Maun on 01/07/17 to descend below 7000 feet to perform the low past flight at Lekhubu, with passengers on board for that matter, is a violation and reckless. The rules have NO exceptions and CAAB has no authority whatsoever to issue such permits that clearly contravene ICAO and CAAB rules,” an aviation expect explained to this publication.
While a few of the passengers who spoke to our source and subsequently, to this publication say they were not informed of the low flight descent as required by ICAO regulations, Air Botswana denies the finding and explains that, “The Captain in charge of the flight confirms that he briefed all passengers before take-off, before descending for the fly-past and also after the fly past. It is worth mentioning that our pilots routinely inform passengers of points of interest during the course of flights.”
Air Botswana said it took part in the Race for Rhinos event as a way to show support for the objectives of the race which seeks to preserve Botswana’s rhino population. “You will appreciate that Air Botswana is a key player in Botswana’s aviation industry and by extension, the tourism industry. The airline was therefore approached by the organizers of the race for rhinos to perform a low-level fly past during the event in support of a worthy cause. We had participated in the same event in 2016,” Leshoai said.
The Botswana Gazette has established that previously, Air Botswana conducted fly-pasts during the 2014 BAYGOC games and also during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations at the National Stadium through the pre-approval of the CAAB. Insiders confirm that unlike flight BP 030 (ATR 42-500), these low fly pasts had no commercial passengers on board.
Information gathered indicates that Air Botswana pilots were instructed last year as well to do the same at the Race for Rhino event. While the event sponsor, Botswana Tourism Organisation did not publish much information on its website, Pilot’s Post Blog shows various pictures of the event, they also feature low fly-pasts that Air Botswana carried out.
Government through Botswana Tourism Organisation spends between P1.5 and P2 million to host the Race for Rhinos event each year. The figure was confirmed by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama at the event. In the back of this, Air Botswana is reported to be making massive losses sitting at about P300 million on the red, resignations of employees and pilots in large numbers and a looming privatization plan that has just failed for the third time following public outcry that forced government from giving it to Wilderness Safaris, a company with connections to Khama.
Issues of Khama abusing state resources have been raised before, in 2013 Kgatleng District councillors accused the Ombudsman of what was reported as “turning a blind eye” to reports that Khama abused Botswana Defence Force (BDF) helicopters which he used to address Botswana Democratic Party-political rallies.
In 2014 questions were also raised following leaked pictures of the Botswana Democratic Party campaign team aboard BDF aircraft went viral on social networks.When Khama was still Vice President he would personally fly Botswana Defence Force helicopters and this resulted with BCP filed a complaint with the then Ombudsman, opposing Khama’s actions.