October 2022 – Guy Leitch

Our South African CAA is a microcosm of Africa, or if you like, Schrodinger’s cat. It is simultaneously both good and bad.

Guy Leitch.

LET’S START WITH THE GOOD. In her almost 10-year reign as Director of the CAA, Ms Poppy Khoza has managed that rarity in SA government: unqualified audits and minimal corruption. While an unqualified audit should be a minimum requirement, for an ANC government department the almost zero corruption achievement is a very commendable accomplishment. Too many civil servants hold the view that it’s ‘my turn to eat’. With Jacob Zuma as role model, this ethos became unapologetically legitimate. I recall a very senior CAA insider telling me that when the CAA Board was appointed, there was shameless jockeying for the portfolio responsible for procurement. After all, why was the struggle fought?

In other areas the CAA is also doing pretty well. The key interface with its client base is licencing, and now that the disruptions of Covid are over, that works reasonably well. Yes sure, some of us still remember the DCA in Struben Street where you renewed your licences without waiting. These days there are no longer just a few grey ladies doing the filing but a plethora of bureaucrats all checking each other’s work before it is loaded into the computer.

‘An honour for an African Woman’

Ms Poppy Khoza.

Yet, like the dual nature of Schrödinger’s Cat, the CAA can also be diabolically bad.

The vitally important Part 135 administration is so bad that many operators first licence their aircraft under Part 91 to get half the work done by a half competent department.

Further, it now takes an inexcusable 12 – 24 months to get an aircraft as well-known as a Cessna 206 added to an existing AOC. Even more diabolical is that it can take over a year to get an aircraft registered. For a multimillion-dollar airliner the lost income can make it impossible to risk importing a new aircraft. This slowly strangles aviation.

Then there is the absurdity of AMEs having to show six months of experience on a type before they can be signed out. It’s the age-old conundrum – how do you gain experience without being allowed to do the job? The net effect of absurd rules is that far too many AMEs are having to resort to the classic mismanagement fudge factor and put ‘Parker pen’ hours in their logbooks. Thus do stupid rules legitimise corruption.

It is against this very mixed bag of achievements and failures that Ms Poppy Khoza’s unanimous election as President of the 2022 ICAO General Assembly must be weighed.

It is unarguably an honour for an African woman to have achieved this recognition. However, she leaves the CAA in October 2023 and so there’s a very real fear that, as she focusses her career ambitions on an ICAO future, the day to day operations of the CAA will fall into further disfunction.

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