The curious closure of flight school

A matter that should ordinarily be as straight as an arrow is proving improbably crooked because the reasons advanced so far by the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana for the closure of a pilot training school won’t fly while authorities at BQA are thumb-sucking. KEABETSWE NEWEL reports

The Botswana Qualification Authority (BQA) has been caught in a compromising position after allegations emerged that it employed unfair practices and underhand tactics that led to the near collapse of Botswana’s first flight training school, IAS Aviation Academy.

The Botswana Gazette is in possession of documents that detail a string of events in which BQA systematically sidelined the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) in favour of a ‘consultant’ from South Africa who was engaged to render expert advice on whether IAS Academy was compliant with Botswana’s civil aviation regulations.

The expert, known to this publication as Captain Eric Mataba and described by BQA as “an aviation expert from the South African Civil Aviation Authority,” was engaged to probe IAS Aviation Academy in 2018. However, Botswana Gazette investigations have revealed that the consultant actually works as a Flight Operations Manager at the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) while licensing of aviation training institutions falls under the Personnel Licensing Department.

The said consultant later made damning findings against IAS Aviation Academy, accusing it of flouting what he termed “international best practice” and falling short of calling for its immediate closure. The academy then wrote to CAAB’s Flight Safety Directorate requesting their presence at a meeting called to consider and/or verify the findings of the South African ‘consultant.’ In justifying the need for CAAB to be present at the meeting, IAS Academy denounced the South African expert’s findings, insisting that it had never been sanctioned by CAAB.

“Understandably, IAS Academy did not want to be forced into closure on the basis of the findings of a South African consultant,” said a source who was close to the matter. “They were compliant with the Botswana Civil Aviation Regulations which are enforced by CAAB. Infact, everyone was puzzled why BQA chose to hire a consultant from outside instead of engaging CAAB directly.”

Interestingly, when IAS Academy sought accreditation from BQA upon opening its doors to the public in 2014, BQA referred the matter to CAAB, saying it did not have the requisite expertise. But this time around, BQA flatly refused to allow CAAB representatives into the verification meeting. BQA’s refusal raised the curiosity of insiders who held that it was IAS Academy that should have been uncomfortable with the presence of more than one regulator in a matter that had implications on its business’ continuity. An officer from BQA later noted that “BQA and CAAB will continue to engage directly and not through their clients,” further advising IAS Academy to “seek guidance next time”.

In another incident, the same BQA officer claimed that CAAB had advised her that citizen flight instructors who had recently graduated from IAS Academy could not work as instructors because they did not have the requisite experience. The Director of Flight Safety at CAAB would later deny the claim, saying CAAB regulations did not require any flight experience for instructors.

These developments cast doubt on the level of transparency and rectitude at BQA when dealing with IAS Aviation Academy. While BQA later begrudgingly admitted that IAS Academy had satisfied all civil aviation regulations, they maintained that it fell short of international best practice. Even so, BQA failed to provide the standards that it referred to as “international best practice” that the flight school had purportedly failed.

In January 2019, months after it was issued with a notice of intent to revoke its accreditation, IAS wrote to BQA expressing frustrations with delays in closing findings related to compliance with civil aviation regulations. The flight training school also asked for further information that would enable it interprete the expectations of BQA, saying it was not clear whether some of the issues raised by members of the Institutional Audit Division were personal or emotional opinions.Subsequent communication from IAS to BQA raised concerns about acute prejudice and delays in resolving the matter. IAS said it had made futile attempts to beseech the CEO to look at the way the matter was being handled as it bordered on the flight school’s economic viability as a company.
In March 2019, BQA withdrew its notice of intent to revoke IAS learning programmes but instructed IAS Academy not to enroll any new leaners. This affected the academy’s financial status negatively. In May 2019, IAS informed students that management had no other option but to suspend operations. IAS Academy now totters on the brink of collapse due to a long pending debt of the Department of Tertiary Education Financing that pays student tuition (DTEF) and a moratorium on enrolment imposed by BQA.

The Government of Botswana has since enrolled over 60 students at South African flight training schools. While training instructors are not allowed to practise in Botswana due to “lack of experience,” fresh graduate instructors in South Africa are given laissez-faire to train Batswana students studying there. Interestingly, the South African Qualifications Authority has left accreditation of flying schools to SACAA.

The Director of IAS, Teezzarh Seduke, has refused to comment on the matter, saying he did not want to jeopardize negotiations because there is a court appointed judicial manager.
Efforts to reach BQA were also futile.Employees of IAS, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they dreaded a gloomy future of starvation and unemployment and asked why management had not sought the intervention of President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

IAS started providing flight training courses in 2013 after being certified and accredited as a flight training institution by both CAAB and BQA. It is the only flight training school in southern Africa is and among only 15 in Africa to be accredited by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a global body that also audits civil aviation authorities. Since it was founded, IAS has facilitated the graduation and subsequent employment of nearly all its youth citizen commercial pilots in Botswana.