Pretoria - A seasoned pilot has his wings back after a court allowed him to take to the skies again.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) suspended his licence for six months when he flew too close to the ground in a bid to encourage a group of people on the landing strip to move away.
David Mandel turned to the Eastern Cape High Court in Gqebertha for an urgent order allowing him to fly again, pending a review application against the CAA’s decision to clip his wings for six months.
Mandel is said to be a passionate and experienced pilot, holding a private pilot’s licence for approximately 40 years, with an unblemished flying record.
He regularly receives invitations to fly in air shows and pilots his own planes between South African cities on a weekly basis for business purposes.
In September last year he was flying aL39 Albatross jet trainer aircraft when he observed people lying on a runway near Knysna. He undertook a pass at 1 000 feet above ground level and dipped his wings to encourage them to clear.
When they failed to do so, he returned to Plettenberg Bay.
Mandel’s conduct was viewed by officials of the CAA and escalated to its enforcement unit as a violation of the civil aviation regulations. His licence was suspended for a period of six months, starting from April until October (this year).
He turned to the court on an urgent basis, as he wanted the suspension lifted until the court had spoken the final word on review.
Mandel told the court that he would be prejudiced given that he used his aircraft for business and personal travel on a weekly basis. He also flies his aircraft for practice and to maintain his skill set.
He also mentioned his commitment to participate in various air shows this year. Mandel said waiting for a further appeal against the decision to suspend his licence would cause him severe prejudice given that it was unlikely that the appeal would be resolved within the period of suspension.
The court noted that this would cause him embarrassment in the flying community, which expects him to perform at the upcoming air shows.
Mandel told the court that he was flying at approximately 700km/h, approximately 1 000 feet above ground level, and undertaking an initial runway inspection to ensure a safe operational environment for landing, when he noticed an obstruction on the runway.
He undertook another pass at a higher altitude and established that there were people lying on the runway. He pulled the aircraft up before undertaking a slower pass at 1 000 feet, and also dipped his wings to encourage the people to clear.
When they failed to do so, he left the circuit and returned to Plettenberg Bay, considering the incident to be “isolated and bizarre”.
The CAA told him that it intended to suspend his licence and he subsequently made written representations to the body as to why it should not be done. Almost four months later, and without reference to his written representations, the authority confirmed that his licence had been suspended for six months, adding a new ground to the complaint.
In addition, Mandel was subjected to successfully passing the Air Law Examination. He unsuccessfully appealed to the CAA against this decision. The body maintained that what he had done was in violation of the applicable provisions and that it posed a serious threat to aviation safety and the public.
The CAA had formed the view that the alleged conduct was worthy of the sanction of suspension without investigation.
Mandel in turn complained that the decision was made without affording him a reasonable opportunity to make representations or to appear in person to explain himself.
The CAA maintained that Mandel acted in contravention of the regulations which deal with safety operations of an aircraft and minimum heights over congested areas or over an obvious open-air assembly of persons.
“The group constituted an obvious open-air assembly of persons. His conduct was irresponsible, dangerous and grossly negligent,” the CAA found.
It argued that the body would be prejudiced if Mandel did not serve his full six months suspension.
Judge Avinash Govindjee said Mandel had established a well-grounded apprehension of irreparable harm if the interim relief was not granted – especially if his suspension was later overturned on review.
The judge added that the CAA would not be prejudiced as it could state its case fully in the upcoming review application.