Pilot who cried ‘bias’ loses R3m claim

Published Feb 20, 2012


A former fighter pilot in the SA Air Force (SAAF) has lost his R3 million damages claim against the defence minister after he accused his superiors of making his life at work such a misery that he had no choice but to resign.

Andrea Serra earlier told the Pretoria High Court he was “victimised” and “unfairly discriminated” against while in the air force.

He also complained that he had to undergo psychological tests from time to time and was grounded.

Although he resigned from the force, it amounted to constructive dismissal as he had no choice but to leave, he claimed.

However, Judge Elias Makgoba found that the circumstances which led to Serra’s resignation were not of the SAAF’s making, but “indeed of the plaintiff’s (Serra) own making”. It was clear that the pilot resigned voluntarily, he said.

The judge further questioned why the SAAF would spend about R10 million to train a fighter pilot, only to make his life such a misery that the pilot would leave the force.

Serra was appointed as a candidate officer and learner pilot in March 1994. He received “his wings” the following year, before entering into a contract with the SAAF for full time training as a pilot.

While at 8 Squadron in Bloemfontein he was promoted to the rank of captain and elected out of a hat to become a low level aerobatics display pilot. It was later decided not to use him as an air display pilot and Serra viewed this as victimisation.

He was later transferred to Louis Trichardt with the rank of major and asked for a transfer to 60 Squadron in Pretoria for personal reasons.

However, prior to this Serra was involved in an accident when the Cheetah he flew crashed. He executed an emergency ejection to save his life, but it was found that he was responsible for the accident.

After being declared medically fit, he was transferred to 60 Squadron at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria.

He suffered another blow when he could not be accommodated on a course as originally scheduled. But Serra later underwent this conversion in the US and qualified as a co-pilot for Boeing 707 aircraft.

Serra then requested test pilot training, which was turned down on the basis that he had just recently completed the Boeing training and first had to complete his duties.

Serra was bitterly disappointed and saw this as an obstruction to his fighter pilot career in the SAAF. He resigned exactly a month later.

His former commander, Brigadier General O A Schur testified that Serra was an able and qualified fighter pilot and that his resignation was regrettable.

It had cost the SAAF more than R10m to train fighter pilots such as Serra and loss of a pilot was a blow to the defence force, he said.

The judge said the SAAF’s treatment of Serra after his crash by requesting a full medical and psychological scanning indicated an institution that only had the best possible treatment of its personnel at heart. It was a pity that Serra saw this as victimisation, he said.

It would appear Serra simply could not handle the fact that the SAAF would for economic reasons not accede to his request to apply for test pilot training. It seemed that Serra thought it was his right that each request be granted, he said.

It “defies logic” that after his resignation, Serra was accommodated in the citizen force, where he would still face the same superiors “who did not like him”, the judge said.

Serra will now also have to foot the hefty legal bill for his own counsel and that of the defence minister. - Pretoria News

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