Flight from South Africa to Germany reportedly made strange manoeuvres in the sky while William Chandler was at the controls
A fake pilot who flew aircraft for more than 20 years was only discovered after an ‘incident’ over Swiss airspace where the plane moved erratically.
William Chandler had been flying with fraudulent paperwork his entire career but South African Airways (SAA) have finally revoked his credentials.
An investigation into a ‘reportable incident’ by the SAA revealed the forgery, reports South Africa’s Mail & Guardian.
Although little is known about the incident, the Mail & Guardian has reported the incident involved Flight SA206 in November from OR Tambo International Airport to Frankfurt, Germany and occurred over Swiss airspace.
Two SAA sources told the website that Chandler, who was the co-pilot on the trip, had the controls at the time.
An SAA insider reportedly said: “There were some strange turns that the aircraft made in the air that were not understood by anybody, even in the cabin crew.
“When they landed, obviously they had to write a safety report, and apparently there was even a problem with the jet itself because of what he had done.”
A spokesman for the authority Tlali Tlali said: “When faced with reportable incidents such as this one, the airline undertakes investigations to gather relevant details, establish facts and make determination on what course of action must be embarked on, whether remedial, disciplinary or otherwise.
“This process forms part of our standard operating procedures.”
Chandler reportedly refused to be promoted to captain, a process that would have required him to resubmit his certification.
Industry insiders said his refusal should have rang alarm bells.
Pilots who joined SAA alongside Chandler in January 1994 became captains in 2005 – yet he remained a senior first officer (SFO)
Prior to 1994, Chandler worked at SAA as a flight engineer.
Pilots are among the highest-paid employees at SAA, with annual salaries ranging between R900 000 (£48,000) a year for the most junior pilots to as much as R6-million (£321,000) for the most senior captains.
Pilots are also entitled to perks such as free airfares for their extended families
Tlali said the airline was calculating, with a view to recovering, remuneration Chandler had earned as a result of his fraud.
This is expected to be in the millions in South African Rand.
Chandler resigned as soon as it became apparent his licence could be a forgery, insiders told the Mail & Guardian.
Tlali said the disgraced SFO was part of the flight deck crew who operated the aircraft and was the monitoring pilot and not pilot of the aircraft.
Pilots are required to renew their licences annually in a process that involves operating a simulator, physical exams and submitting their licences to an external examiner.
Besides opening a criminal case of fraud against Chandler, Tlali said SAA has tightened up its authentication and validation processes.
This includes the airline asking the Civil Aviation Authority to peruse all its pilots’ licensing files.
South African Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson Kabelo Ledwaba said the regulator was working with counterparts in Germany to get the bottom of the incident.
He said: “Our view is that this is an isolated case.
“However, as the aviation regulator and the entity that issues pilot licences, we have earnest interest in this matter; and hence we are also conducting our own investigation in order to establish where the loopholes are and whether there is a need to introduce additional countermeasures.
“It is important that we undertake this exercise, not only for safety reasons, but to ensure that the prestige attached to a South African-issued aviation licence remains intact and our crew continue to be revered for their world-class competence.”
Chandler, along with the captain and flight crew, was grounded pending investigation into the incident. Tlali said the investigation was ongoing.