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Sunday, 19 September 2010

Pilot could be fired over racist remark (South Africa)

A senior SAA captain is facing dismissal after using a racist remark while dealing with a ground technician.

The highly experienced pilot was sitting in the cockpit of the aircraft when he used the k-word over the interphone system with the ground, which, unbeknown to him, was live.

The ground technician, who was in communication with the flight deck, heard the remark.

SAA's head of corporate communications, Fani Zulu, confirmed yesterday that the incident had occurred in June and that a hearing had been held.

"The process is nearing completion and a decision will be taken in the next few days. Meanwhile, the pilot, who was grounded, was on full pay, which was stopped on Friday," said Zulu.

Captain John Harty, chairman of the SAA Pilots' Association (Saapa), said yesterday that although it did not condone racist remarks and that sanction was justified, it was felt that, under the circumstances, the recommendation of dismissal was too harsh.

"The captain had been flying for more than 16 hours and had had technical problems in Accra prior to departure," said Harty. "After arriving at OR Tambo Airport following a long night flight, the crew were waiting for a ground power unit to be attached to the aircraft before shutting down its power systems. Problems were experienced by ground engineers, which delayed the shutdown and offloading of passengers."

Harty said that, in his frustration, the captain, who has been with the airline for 23 years, made the remark. He immediately apologised to the engineer and later went to the management offices where he admitted the remark.

At the disciplinary hearing three weeks ago, he apologised to the technician and the men shook hands.

Nevertheless, the presiding officer recommended dismissal.

Harty said the technician was a member of the SA Transport and Applied Workers' Union, which had agreed to send a letter to SAAPA, as a joint appeal to management, against what was viewed as an overly harsh decision.

Harty said SAAPA would appeal to the CEO for clemency for the pilot. "We are also addressing numerous procedural irregularities which occurred concerning the hearing."

He added that, with over 800 pilots at SAA, this was the first incident of its kind in 16 years, which indicated that racism was not endemic in the airline.

Times Live