View Full Version : Amazing unprofessionalism in Africa

Jayjay Ococha
13th Jul 2003, 23:09
Anyone else hear the exchange between Niamey control and the pilot of a major international airline this morning 13th July? In a relatively short aviation career (7 years) it has to go down as the most childish and unprofessional exchange I have ever heard. In a procedural ATC environment a conflict was identified overhead ROFER reporting point (3 mins), the resolution ordered by Niamey was to descend said pilot, who not only refused but did so in a manner as if to say "I`m not moving, move the other guy" (another major international airline). Further pleas from ATC for him to descend were met with arrogant disdain and a repeated refusal to descend. He went on to quote ICAO Rules of the Air, paragraphs from Jeppeson, the Charter of Godknowswhat etc. both on 126.9 and Niamey ATC frequency, all the time remaining at his assigned level causing a loss of separation.
He was not only childish, arrogant and stupid, but sounded ridiculous and endangered the lives of up to 400 people. All those who fly regularly in the IFBP area know its limitations and safety relies on the utmost professionalism of those involved. It saddens and worries me to know that there are pilots prepared to compromise our most basic tenets for the sake of misguided "principle".

13th Jul 2003, 23:46
3 mins in a radar environment could be anything from 15 to 20 nm. Enough for said environment. In a procedural environment 10min are required.
Flight levels are hotly contested in Africa and being a non-RVSM environment the chap from the "major international airline" didnt want to sacrifice 4000' which in his mind were HIS.!!

Jay Jay, did their routes converge from there on?? If not, It wouldnt have been too much of a hassle climbing back up to the previous cruising level. If they were to stay on same tracks, then it would be bad luck. This chap should understand that he is not the only one out there. Very unproffesional indeed.

Maybe too much reliance on TCAS and his own abilities to provide ATC on 126,9 !!

You gonna tell us which "major international airline" it was??

The Trappist
14th Jul 2003, 00:34
Talking with the guys here at the Orval, a lot of whom operate the length and breadth of Africa, to a ‘person’ they were astounded, disgusted, even stupefied that anybody – let alone from a ‘national carrier’ - should behave in this way.
None of them had heard the exchange so, give us a clue; about which nationalities are we talking?
It almost makes you want to go by train!
Hadn’t these guys done a CRM course?
If you have to fly at a lower altitude and burn more gas then it’s not that much of a strain to land and pick up some more.
Flying through Africa any ‘professional’ commander would have covered the lower altitude scenario, before leaving the departure point!

Jayjay Ococha
14th Jul 2003, 03:15
I didn`t include the airlines as I didn`t want to provoke parochial mud slinging, but on reflection it is no slur on the airline and the vast majority of their exemplary crew, merely on this one individual. The "offender" was from South African and the conflicting aircraft was Alitalia. We were very impressed with the way the situation was handled by the Italian crew who refused to be drawn into an R/T based slanging match, treating his repeated haranguing on 126.9 with the contempt it deserved.

ATC Watcher
14th Jul 2003, 13:12
This illustrate extremely well the limits of concepts such as Free flight. An FMS nost economic profile should not be the most important thing in our minds.
Safety should take priority.
I hear more and more, even in Europe, crews refusing clearances, Even the now infamous " do we have to descend now " has already causes some close calls.

14th Jul 2003, 21:25
Have noticed this type of 'operation' only one time, while deadheading on the obs seat west of Medan.
Our aircraft, having reached FL350 about ten minutes before, was asked by Lumpur to descend to FL310 due to crossing traffic ahead.
The Captain 'politely refused'...Lumpur directed again, and the Captain refused once more and promptly switched off the HF.

Yep, there it was, passing ahead about three miles away, was the crossing traffic.

Have to wonder about the thinking process that goes on with these folks.

14th Jul 2003, 23:01
ATC Watcher

I hear more and more, even in Europe, crews refusing clearances, Even the now infamous " do we have to descend now " has already causes some close calls.

Sometimes when you receive a clearance to a lower altitude it will include the phrase "at pilot's discretion", sometimes not. If I receive a descent clearance well before my 'ideal' descent point I will ask if it is at my discretion or if they want me to descend now - no harm in that, surely?

14th Jul 2003, 23:07
IT's unreal what you describe, sometimes you wish you could reach through your headset and grab the pilot on the other end and shake him!!!

I had a flight a few weeks ago that did something to me:
my call " xxx air descend to FL 250"
pilot "XXX air cleared to FL 250, do we have to start down now"
my call "sir, descend means descend, yes start down now there is traffic"
pilot "well sir, if you want us down you have to say descend now"
my call "read the rules, i did not say cleared to or descend at your discretion i said DESCEND"

How much clearer do we have to make it. I say climb, then climb, i say descend, then descend. You want safety then play the game boys, we don't do this to piss you off.

15th Jul 2003, 02:05
And yesterday, inbound to EBBR with runway 02 in operation: "Maastricht xxxxxx we have negotiated direct GSY with Brussels". While he was at it why didn't he also negotiate a lower level with Brussels and seperation with all the other traffic around? :* I remember a colleague once said on the r/t, "you fly your aeroplane and let me do the controlling"!

15th Jul 2003, 02:51
Angels Playmate;
Just to provide possible answers to your statement Interestingly, no other ATC unit in charge later on-neither Mumbai or Muscat took him down . He flew all the way at 350 to AUH !! Off air, there was probably a mad scramble to make way for this guy who was refusing instructions. Additionally, MCT may have just received co-ord on him at FL350, none of the rest of the story, and if they had known the story, a path would have been cleared for him anyway by then. (As an aside- in a non-radar environment, sometimes your requested level may be available, but you can't get up there as 'the heavies' are blocking the intermediate levels. This may have been what the 'rogue pilots' were thinking. Not making excuses for them.)

How long ago was this? I'd like to see someone refuse instructions like that in these times.

Before this descends into pilots Vs ATC, it works both ways. I find it only common sense to add "due traffic" to an unexpected clearance out of the blue. We are all so used to everything being regimented these days, it is quite reasonable to expect pilots to query instructions out of the blue. We've got the picture, they haven't. But when it's busy, the last thing you need is "is that for us?", "why am I No 2?", etc. etc.

15th Jul 2003, 03:00
In the two years and two months that I have been privileged to read and post on PPRuNe, nothing has made my hair stand on end - like this thread.

From 411a "The Captain 'politely refused' ... Lumpur directed again, and the Captain refused once more and promptly switched off the HF."

I cannot imagine someone who thinks that the instruments that they have on board are so 110% certain that he will actively ignore key information. Information that, if it all goes wrong, will condem his memory (I say memory, as not many people survive mid-air's). Perhaps folks have been getting away with it for so long, they think that it won't happen to them. Whatever they think - they are not thinking about the right things.

411a:- In the case that you quote, it seems that the pilot was asked to descend from FL350 to FL310 and then (presumebly) could go back up to FL350 again? If so - what impact on fuel would this short dip have? Or might he have thought that he would be held low for some time?

In the case of the 767 who was being held under the 747s, the fuel impact was obviously high and it seems that planning was not all that it should have been! It was encouraging to hear that he was brought to account.

15th Jul 2003, 05:07
Interestingly, I had kind of the antithesis the other day...

Padova radar came over and said "You have traffic same level 20 miles, is your TCAS working?"

When I told him my TCAS was working fine he replied "Then do you need a Vector?"

My reply was that if there was a separation breakdown, I most definatley needed a vector!!

TCAS is an emergency tool designed to be a last ditch stand against a collision, not a tool for routine seperation.

ASR duly submitted and awaiting the outcome...

15th Jul 2003, 07:04

Padova?? Jeez, these guys dont really know what the work is all about. The tfc comes to us at non-standard levels, parallel, faster behind etc etc and we have to sort it out because the French are difficult on the other side. It doesnt surprise me hearing your comment about Padova asking if your tcas is working.......

15th Jul 2003, 11:17
Don't think in this particular case that our flight would have been held down long, just descended for the crossing traffic.
Lumpur can be a headache at times.

Oddly enough, this particular guy was the chief pilot for awhile, and quite a nice fellow as well. Sure don't understand the reasoning on this afternoon however. My First Officer (also deadheading on the other obs seat), just stared into space, not saying a word. In reality, what else could he do...complain?
Yep, and be sent home without pay for awhile.
Sadly, some areas of the world just work like this.

15th Jul 2003, 15:28
In response to the earlier comments about he meaning of "descend to" (descend now), while you are correct that "descend to" means to descend now, I've have been in enough places around the world where the controller said to descend to and when queried, replied that it was pilot's discretion. You can usually get a pretty good idea by where you are, the quality of the R/T by ATC and how busy it is whether a question would be appropriate. It would be nice if everyone used standard R/T (pilots and controllers) but that is just not the case (and in my opinion it is getting worse). This part of the thread does point out the safety implications of standard R/T.

Vortex what...ouch!
15th Jul 2003, 16:51
This is the scariest thing I have read on PPRUNE. Why are you not reporting these people and getting them out of the sky?

Angel`s Playmate
15th Jul 2003, 18:24
To Ferries !!

It was around X-mas, either 1995 or 96 !


15th Jul 2003, 18:24
To our ATC colleagues.
We are controlled by ATC in all parts of the world whose operations vary from country to country. Unless I knew from previous experience what was intended, I would consider it perfectly normal to ask if an early descent was 'Right now' or 'At pilot's discretion.'
e.g: In USA or approaching EDDF I expect an early descent.
If RT is v-busy & can't get word in then immediate descent is safest option but then I've never been coy about carrying extra fuel :ok:

15th Jul 2003, 21:49

I agree with you. In about 50% of cases, ATC come back and say that the descent is at my discretion. If the descent is early, I will ask as part of acknowledging the descent clearance, and am always prepared to descend straight away.

Again if standards were just that, and that 'at your discretion' was ALWAYS added when meant, then there'd be no confusion ever...

ATC Watcher
16th Jul 2003, 05:10
Are you guys really ATPL rated or you're having a wind up.?
the R/T phraseo whether ICAO or FAA is clear ; there is no " now" in the book. you might asume or think what you like but not following the book will get you one day in trouble.

West Coast
16th Jul 2003, 07:14
ATC watcher

It is a legit question if time permits. I was topping some buildups a few days ago, and of course at the worst possible time came the "descend and maintain" clearance. That would have put us in harms way. I asked for and recieved at pilots discretion clearance. Otherwise I would have had to decline the clearance and I suppose taken penalty vectors waaaaay off course.

16th Jul 2003, 07:54
ATC Watcher,
No wind-up.
I've been flying for nearly 40 yrs, been a mil pilot & ATCO and have had an ATPL since '73. Flown all over the world as a captain with two major airlines.
I stand by my comments.

16th Jul 2003, 08:49
>>Are you guys really ATPL rated or you're having a wind up.?
the R/T phraseo whether ICAO or FAA is clear ; there is no " now" in the book. you might asume or think what you like but not following the book will get you one day in trouble.<<

May I assume that you don't fly international long haul for a living?

16th Jul 2003, 10:53
In the last 30+ years, have flown almost exclusively out of the USA/Europe (except for flights to/from, of course) and one could only wish for the consistancy of ATC services that, for example, most of Europe/USA provides.

From the days on 6624 (AM, no sideband then in the BOM FIR) until today in many far away locals, it sometimes is very difficult deciding just what ATC really expects.

16th Jul 2003, 11:56
By USA, I assume you mean North America...although I guess to you guys USA is North America.

16th Jul 2003, 15:15

Opps, sorry, Canada good as well.
Oddly enough, mostly approached North America from the Pacific side, via HNL.

Sometimes a rather big problem is rushing up to TOD only to find that you can't get a word in edgewise.
Younger First Officers (PF) have problems with this, so just usually suggest for them to close the taps to slow down, then descend when they can, spoilers if required.

Pilot Pete
16th Jul 2003, 16:08

Sometimes a rather big problem is rushing up to TOD only to find that you can't get a word in edgewise. Younger First Officers (PF) have problems with this, so just usually suggest for them to close the taps to slow down, then descend when they can, spoilers if required.

Why is it you always have to put in a dig about how crap F/Os are? Any F/O who has passed all his training should know how to get back on profile if high. Perhaps your airline has a problem with selection/ training? But let's not get into a slanging match about good/ bad F/Os and Captains as the point is not relevant to this post.

Regarding the comments about descending, I think an important point on phraseology is the use of the word 'to'. This word should not be included in a descent from one flight level to another (or indeed a climb.) It should only be used for a descent 'to' an altitude/ height. Hear plenty of 'to' flight levels and it's just a mistake waiting to happen................


16th Jul 2003, 23:12
Pilot Pete,
Certainly no 'dig' at First Officers.
Was referring to the guys/gals under training.
As they have just come from the sim, where they had enough to do without worring about descent technique....if they are never told, how else are they expected to learn?

When they are released to line flying, they will certainly be told sixteen different ways (by sixteen different line Captains) how to do it, the training Captain's job is to give 'em a clue in the right direction.

ATC Watcher
17th Jul 2003, 13:38
Gee, you are making my day,

West Coast : asking for a pilots discreation or a delay in executing a clearance for any legitimate reason ( E.G BUIDUP ) is perfectly OK. we are not taling about those.

Basil : Airspace is not designed for your confort : For inbound EDDF as you mention the coordination point is FL 240 85 NM before airport. This was done to keep you clear of EDDL,EDDK,EBBR traffic all within 30 NM
If you coming above FL320, your top of descent is likely to be way off what your FMS say. asking systemeatically " rignt now ?" is really pissing us off. as we have something else to do as to reapeat all our clearances twice.

Airbubba : No I do not fly international longhaul for a living, ( that mean I am no expert in Procedural and oceanic control :} ). But I fly IR since 1967 , and control Upper airspace since 1973 (for a living) so I have heard my share of bad R/T, beleive me.

411A : What ATC really expect is some form of following the procedures and the phraseo. Of course not the whole ATC word is at the same level. In some countries ( e,g India, Africa, South Am etc,, ) salries of controllers are less than a 100 USD a month .
Do not expect miracles .

Now why am I so bitchy about this ? : an example : some time ago I had 3 outbounds EHAM and 2 inbounds opposite on top of my usal load of overflight and EGLL deps . all was under control and nicely planned until one guy questioned a descent : " Do we really have to leave now ? " - Affirm, -was my reply before switching to another problem . Then the guy took 30 seconds to vacate and did so with 300 ft/min. When I realised, I had to level off 1 outbound and turn away 30 deg the other : answer of the bloke : you did not specify a rate, so it is my discretion !.

Some guys have apparently a problem with receiving clearances they do not like , and / or consider ATC as bothering their freedom to fly. If you want freedom buy yourself a glider, but do not come in my airspace. It is full of restrictions.:E

Now a glass of wine to cool down...

17th Jul 2003, 14:02
some yrs back, S. of Karachi, we were a bit in front of SQ for a crossing point, F370, SQ instructed to descend to 330... long argument, in the course of which SQ asked us would we mind them crossing astern of us visual!!! (Daylight, VMC.) We weren't interested in that and the argument with Karachi ATC continued - eventually we picked him up visually steaming steadily in from nine o'clock - at the last moment he obeyed Karachi's increasingly urgent instructions, last seen in a gentle descent 500 or 1000 metres astern of us.

There is nothing you can say to people like that, and nothing constructive you can do about it.

Metro man
17th Jul 2003, 14:07
In Australia the phrase "When ready............." is used if the descent point is to be left up to the pilot. Standard descent profiles have been agreed between ATC and operators for various aircraft types ,these can of course be varied if required.

Capt Snooze
18th Jul 2003, 05:16
Slight diversion of the thread……

Metro man.

I am always bemused by this statement in the OZ context.

‘Standard descent profiles have been agreed between ATC and operators for various aircraft types’

I’ve never worked for an operator who has been involved in any discussion leading to any agreement of this nature, yet I am constantly exhorted to ‘resume standard profile’ or words to that effect.

Yes, I’m talking heavies here.

I’m sure that Qantas talks to CASA / Air Services when they introduce a new type, and Ansett, in their day probably did likewise. Perhaps Virgin are now amongst the realms of the Godly, The rest of us mortals are never consulted on anything.

What exactly are these ‘standard profiles’? They’re not published.

(Yes, I know what ATC think my ‘standard profile’ is in the aircraft I fly, but that’s because I chased the info, not because it’s published, or agreed to by my employer.)


18th Jul 2003, 13:34
I'm a bit out of touch, but I'll have a go.
Standard profiles arose because even though AN and QF operated the same types, they operated them differently. This caused sequencing problems (and as they went everywhere in pairs- in the true spirit of competition- something had to be changed).
The "resume standard profile" I think you are referring to is actually "resume profile speed" or "resume normal speed" which releases you from a speed restriction, but means you must still comply with STAR speeds etc.

Someone more current may correct me.

18th Jul 2003, 14:40
I think what has been said about standard profile above is correct - eg the QF 767-300, used a standard descent speed of current mach no./300kts, and the QF 767-200 with Pratt's used 320kts (something to do with maintaining the profile with Ansetts 767-200's with GE engines). (now i think it just reverted to 300kts with Ansett being no longer)

Also does it have something to do with the Flight plan you file ? Don't you nominate a descent speed in your flight plan ?

19th Jul 2003, 08:57
Well, I heard some 'amazing unprofessionalism' in Europe last year. On intermediate approach to a Very Big Airport (which has featured in these threads before) - and the controller lost the plot. Clearly and undoubtedly. There were stammers, rapid reversals of vectors and altitudes, voice-pitch raised to falsetto and sentences hauntingly halted in the middle.

This actually wasn't the unprofessional bit though - another gentleman from a very major European airline interrupted the controller (who, incidentally was sequencing me and an Alitalia on to parallel runways, and was beginning to get it sorted out) with an absolute diatribe of .. well, abuse frankly. He told her what he thought of her "poor performance", her airport, how often it was happening there, just how "unimpressive" she was, how he was going to report her ...blah blah..

The upshot was that no contolling took place, and I got a nice view of Alitalia sliding underneath. This character's bluster and pomposity practically finished the poor girl off - her voice was actually trembling when she got back to me with a profuse apology- (He didn't get one though) - and made a very uncomfortable few moments become quite frightening.

Why do some people think that they are the arbiters of the air, and elect themselves judge and jury? - and why do they always open fire at the least propitious moment, thereby missing such a golden opportunity to keep their mouths firmly shut? And why can't they realise that the venue for such conversations is on the ground, using a telephone?

I wonder how he speaks to his wife ...................

19th Jul 2003, 10:02
When I learnt to fly the choices were:-

1. "Descend to (or climb to) ....." Which meant that within one minute you were expected to leave the altitude or flight level you had been maintaining, or

2. "When ready (or "At pilot's discretion"), descend and maintain ....."

It seemed pretty straight forward and I believe that this is the way it still is....

It still works for me.

22nd Jul 2003, 18:00
Being a crewmember of the airline concerned, I would like to follow up on this. I really need the callsign to get to the bottom of this. Can anyoune help???

22nd Jul 2003, 18:54
I am glad to see that you intend to get to the bottom of this and stick to the original story. It would be interesting to hear the other side of our national airline.

In the original post a date is given and it was within a certain FIR. This would narrow it down somewhat.

Is this sector, somewhere in the middle of the flight, during the Captain rest period which would leave an F/O resposible for the alledged argument about descent! Could this possibly be?:ok:

Sheep Guts
22nd Jul 2003, 20:19
When I was operating King Airs in the Carib, I listened to many different airlines on Centermer and other frequencies. And 99.9% percent of the time ATC is good and attemps to plan ahead by asking traffic to descend or climb when on converging tracks, same level. And 99.9% of the time the crews comply politely with no quarms. Obviously the climb request sometimes cant be done due fuel implications, and its the luck of the draw who gets called first to do so or asked to descend. But hey these guys have a job to DO and someone has to give out there, not ATC.
In Australia theres alot of OCTA flying no radar only procedural. And its up to the Pilots in most cases to organise there own seperation. Common sense must prevail. Its Airmanship actually really, good airmanship should lead to good proffesionalism.


Jayjay Ococha
22nd Jul 2003, 20:34
I can certainly remember the call sign, however I am loathe to post it on an open forum for fear of provoking a witch hunt. Rest assured the incident was certainly reported by us (MOR) and Niamey informed the SAA crew that they were also taking reporting action. The incident took place roughly half way along South African`s route, and we got the impression that the pilot we heard on the ATC/126.9 frequency was the captain acting as HP with the FO operating the radio for routine calls. I must stress this is pure conjecture based on gut instinct (eg the voice of the belligerent pilot seemed to come from an older man).

23rd Jul 2003, 16:21
I have obtained the flight number and isolated the "perpetrator". Rest assured that the South African National carrier has taken a very dim view of this incident!!

23rd Jul 2003, 16:43
GMC-Good to hear that the National Carrier is taking a dim view of this and hopefully something will come of this. "Best carrier in Africa" should lead by example and it should include cockpit, and not just service in the cabin.

Could you imagine if the controller was a little late, however believing it to be sufficient, in solving the passing time of two aircraft and then has to put up with arguing for another 5 minutes?

27th Jul 2003, 22:40
This article from the Sundaytimes in South Africa.

SAA jumbo pilot in mid-air dogfight

'Arrogant and stupid' captain is accused of endangering lives of 400 passengers after ignoring air traffic controller's instruction

Roger Makings

SAA is investigating the captain of a jumbo jet, carrying hundreds of passengers, after he refused to obey an air traffic controller's instructions to descend to avoid another aircraft in Niger airspace two weeks ago.

The other jet, an Alitalia aircraft, obeyed the controller's instruction to take evasive action, but the "belligerent" SAA pilot is believed to have deliberately ignored the instruction.

The incident came to light after it was reported by air crew on an Internet forum for professional pilots.

One anonymous pilot, who called himself "Jayjay Okocha" - the name of a Nigerian footballer - and who heard the exchange between the SAA jumbo and air traffic control at Niamey airport in Niger, said: "It has to go down as the most childish and unprofessional exchange I have heard.

"He was not only childish, arrogant and stupid, but sounded ridiculous and endangered the lives of up to 400 people.

"Further pleas for him to descend were met with arrogant disdain and a repeated refusal to descend. He went on to quote ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation] Rules of the Air . . . all the time remaining at his assigned level, causing loss of separation [between the aircraft]."

The writer, after being pressed by other visitors to the website, identified the "offender" as being from "South African" [Airways].

"We [his cockpit colleagues] were impressed with the way the situation was handled by the Italian crew, who refused to be drawn into a . . . slanging match, treating his repeated haranguing . . . with the contempt it deserved."

Pilots commenting on the incident on the forum said they were "astounded, disgusted and stupefied" by the actions of the SAA captain who endangered the lives of hundreds of passengers, while at the same time acknowledging the professionalism of SAA cockpit crews.

SAA's executive vice-president for operations, Johan van Jaarsveld, confirmed the airline was investigating the allegations, but cautioned that there were two sides to a story.

"Our aircraft are equipped with airborne collision avoidance systems which inform crews of the position of other traffic in the vicinity. It is inconceivable a captain would defy a controller's instruction to descend if he was unaware of the position of the 'intruder' aircraft," he said.

But he stressed that if found guilty of a transgression, the captain, who was this week identified by SAA management, could face disciplinary action. "We will do anything required to ensure the safety of our passengers over Africa. This will be fully investigated," said Van Jaarsveld.

The incident refused to die down on the website. This week, 10 days after the first report, an SAA "crew member" with the pseudonym "GMC" asked for the call-sign of the jumbo to be identified "to get to the bottom of this".

"Okocha" replied that he remembered it well but did not want to provoke a witch-hunt. He added: "Rest assured the incident was certainly reported by us, and Niamey informed the SAA crew that they were also taking action."

"GMC" replied the next day: "I have obtained the flight number and isolated the 'perpetrator'. Rest assured that the South African national carrier has taken a very dim view of this incident."

One experienced SAA captain said this week that dealing with air traffic controllers in Africa could be frustrating and "can lead to outbursts of temper, but that is no excuse for unprofessionalism".

In 1997 two multi-engined military jets collided over the ocean off the Namibian coast, killing 33 passengers and crew. This followed warnings a year earlier by the Airline Pilots' Association of South Africa that chaotic air traffic management over Africa was endangering aircraft and passengers.

28th Jul 2003, 02:36
Excellent reading!

Rat Catcher
28th Jul 2003, 19:18
Seems that Danny's BIG RED STATEMENT at the bottom of the page has come into effect!
:rolleyes: :rolleyes: Bit of a shame to get dumped on via a rumour network:suspect: :suspect: But, everone was warned:E

29th Jul 2003, 06:47
This story has now reached South African Press already.

I do feel there are a few things to point out.

1. SAA pilots are of the best-trained and very professional level of pilots.
2. Niger is a very large country with very sparse air traffic. To say the least an ATC in Niger cannot be compared with any kind of level as in Europe, America’s, Asia or Southern Africa.
3. The SAA aircraft has most probably been flying at the correct flight level for about 3,000 km before confronted with a command to descend. Add to it that it has no business to land for at least another 6,000 km.
4. The systems onboard the SAA flight would have picked up an approaching aircraft on radar.
5. It is not clear – but why have both aircraft been requested to descend? It does not make sense at all.
6. Changing altitude radically with 2/3 of the flight still ahead consumes fuel that could cause an unscheduled landing for refuelling. It is the right of the commander of the aircraft to question the request.
7. Not far from the incident, a civil war is in progress. Due caution should always prevail.
8. A listener to the exchange reported the incident. Not by Niger ATC. The reporter has thus got no fact of source, image or authority. So just another gossip.
9. What information did the ATC of Niamey control have regarding the flight levels? To order both to descend does not seem appropriate when there are prescribed flight levels.

Based on the sparse information and hearsay, it is very unprofessional to beat up the commander of an aircraft for questioning a dubious request. In the end the final say is in the hands of the commander of the aircraft, no matter what an ATC does or doesn’t instruct. Also bear in mind that the commander of a 747 is highly aware that the souls of those onboard are in his/her hands.

29th Jul 2003, 08:11
Firstly, it's a little sobering to see a thread quoted so closely in the press:ooh:

If you are going to mount a parochial defence of a colleague, get someone to help you in future.
1. The original poster acknowledged that in general, SAA pilots are professional. In this case, a different conclusion could be drawn about this individual. If his actions have caused his colleagues embarrassment, then so be it.
2. Throwing mud at Nigerian ATC is a poor justification.
3. It doesn't matter how long who has been flying where. He was instructed to descend, and didn't.
4. The systems onboard the SAA flight would have picked up an approaching aircraft on radar. How do you know? A stupid statement that I will explore later.
5. Both aircraft were not requested to descend simultaneously. Did you actually read the thread? The Alitalia was descended after SAA refused. What doesn't make sense?
6. It may be the right of the commander to question 'why the need for the level change'. But the answer "due traffic" should be the end of the discussion. More later.
7. Does due caution involve refusing instructions? I'm pretty close to a war zone, and I'd like to see you refuse instructions around here.
8. The thread poster heard the exchange first-hand. It is not hearsay. Niger ATC was also alleged to have reported the incident.
9. This point doesn't need answering.

The overall safety is indeed the commanders' responsibility. And a commander who is shown to have refused legitimate instructions has failed in that duty, IMHO. Especially if his decisions are based on economics, not safety.

In a similar vein, I (and others- see ATC forum) have noticed a sudden increase in "economic questioning" lately. ie if taken off profile, a barrage of why's, where's etc. ensues. Also, a lot of this is based on a breathtaking reliance on TCAS. Twice this week already "why is my descent stopped? There's nothing on TCAS." Then the traffic is described "oh yes, got him now (visual)". Has there been some economic imperitive issued to crews? Do some pilot's have an unhealthy reliance on, and lack of understanding of, TCAS? There is no single airline involved, it's seemingly across the board. I was handed a mess a couple of days ago caused by an (insert name of global, respected airline) pilot who didn't want to meet a descent requirement because it would "push him below profile". Unheard of even a month ago. If this sort of behaviour is considered 'professional' these days (ie "economic questioning"), it might be time to hang up the hat.

29th Jul 2003, 13:42

Excellent post!! :ok: Despite what's being discussed over on the ATC forum, and personal experience of late, I'm heartened by the fact that, throughout this thread, there has only been one half baked attempt at defending the captain's behaviour. Questioning a clearance is one thing, blanket refusal to comply is quite another. The day that bond of trust is broken it's game over!

The frailties of TCAS and it's perception by those at the sharp end of the ship is a whole other discussion.

Goldfish Jack
29th Jul 2003, 15:16

You have raised some very interesting points and taken a lot of wind out of what I was going to say - thanks for that - and u have some very valid points.

Hey Shack - wake up and smell the grass. It is obvious who you fly for.........

Allow me to add the following:

1. That is your opinion and you are welcome to it.
3. Have you thought that maybe the traffic was crossing? Irrespective of how long the aircraft was in the flight, maybe the controller deemed it necessary to get the SA a/c to descend. Maybe the plan was then to climb him once the confliction was resolved. Have you thought of that?
4. As to the statement about on-board systems. Hey please do not give your lack of knowledge away. Ferris has taken care of that one and very well done.
6. Filing a flight plan is NO GUARANTEE of a level. What if there was traffic ahead of them and they could not get the level? Is that not why you carry contingency fuel and reserves, or do you despatch with (mimimum) SITA fuel and hope that you get all your levels, there will be no delays and the wx will be CAVOK at your destination?
7. As to the war - what in hell's name are you doing flying so close to that area then?? Surely if the captain has the consideration of his passengers at heart, he will re-file for another route?
8. My compliments to the person who reported this - maybe now the necessary action will be taken - can you imagine the captain reporting this to flight ops?

As Ferris says, and let me concur - ATCs have the big picture and are aware of what is going on. Even if it is in Africa. Lots of pilots like to think they have the picture, but they do not. I buy your point about the captain having the right to query a decision, but surely a professional pilot will then carry it out? I have been involved in such a situation before, where the captain insisted in arguing about the clearance to the point where I had to tell him it was now urgent and he better do something fast. I feel for that controller in Niamey and can sympathise with him. ( I wonder what his colleagues on the freq must have thought at the time??)

I have to deal with some of these pilots every day and they certainly can test you. The vast majority of SAA pilots are a pleasure to work with, but they still have some of those pilots that exist from WW2 and the Korean War - they are always right and ATC is a hinderance. Please do not defend this - it is true. Some of the requests that you get from them are quite unbelievable, to say the least. (Two that come to mind are requesting a high speed descent to make up time, when the flight is already 4 hours late and wanting to leave an airway to fly via Kimberley at FL410 to show the passengers the Big Hole!!!!!!) The quicker they leave SAA, the better.

And oh a friendly reminder - the more a pilots nags ATCs, the more they can delay him and make the flight unpleasant - longer routes, holds, slow speeds, etc etc. So why not get on with the ATC, realise he is trying his best and all work together for the better of everyone? ( I dont want this to get into a slanging match, but please remember this one - we do have procedures in place to cool off pilots)

"We did not invent flying - we perfected it" Now where did I hear that? Oh well at least I know which airline not to fly with when I go to Europe next time.

Ferris - it is heartening that this has made the press - as we need such arrogance to be exposed and removed. For the benefit of the WHOLE aviation community - not just Africa. This person could be in your way soon, if he is not checked.

29th Jul 2003, 16:33
Please Goldfish Jack do not confuse me "Shack", with "ShackletonSA" and take my name in vain.

I flew for too long to come up with such statements as he has done.

29th Jul 2003, 17:45
I am sorry if my questioning of the events is stirring up emotions. It is clear that the replies are full of emotion and at times getting personal.

None of the replies have really answered the statements to the level that one can accept the reply as fact. Indeed more generalities have been raised, that clearly shows a bias.

Others have different opinions like the contents of the URL below illustrates


I believe there is an investigation currently being conducted and then all facts shall be known.

Jayjay Ococha
29th Jul 2003, 17:52
As the originator of this thread, please allow me to address one of ShackletonSA`s points and correct a misconception which has crept in. Both aircraft were not instructed to descend this was addressed to the SAA aircraft alone. The reason given by Niamey was that the Alitalia entered the airspace first and levels are allocated on a "first come first served" basis. For that reason the SAA aircraft was asked to descend, ( both aircraft were heading north on converging tracks). SAA refused the instruction in the way described earlier and continued to do so for about 15 minutes. Pleas for a resolution came from ATC and other aircraft on the frequency. The situation was resloved and separtion maintained when SAA demanded a time and geographical location at which, were he to descend, he would be cleared back to his original level ( the tracks diverged after the conflict point.) Having been given such by ATC he descended.
I take ShackletonSA`s point that I was only party to the exchange by being on the same frequency at the time and as such have no idea of the SAA flightdeck conditions and any constraints, be it fuel or otherwise, that they may have been under. There are two sides to every story. I posted originally to provoke an exchange of views amongst professionals regarding an incident I found deeply disturbing, certainly not to cast aspersions on the professionalism of SAA crews in general.

29th Jul 2003, 18:35
Thanks for the honest reply Jayjay Ococha. Your viewpoints taken in good spirit.

29th Jul 2003, 20:37
How many other aircraft are operating without transpondors or TCAS themselves in Africa and a "Proudly Airline" is going to soley trust it's TCAS. One should never trust that the other aircraft has the same top equipment as our "professional airliners" have, specially here in Africa. We too fly 12 hour long haul accross Africa on an A340, nightly/daily and for many a times do we have to descend from FL350 to below 30000 for a period of an hour or so due to the amount of traffic northbound out of Nairobi, Reunion, Madagascar, all converging on Khartoum. Due to limited flight levels, traffic on different frequencies, there is no time to argue but listening out and transmitting on 126.9, will also allow anticipated action to be planned ahead.

Who would want argue with the ATC in arrogance, when ATC knows and understands the big picture? I well understand that we may "request traffic information" for a better understanding (to make a calculated desicion), but arguing and refusing goes beyond the borders of arrogance and this is by no means proffesional.

If the Captain of this SAA flight thought that it was dangerous to fly within airpace near a war, or he felt threatened with descent and that it was unwarranted which was against the safety to his aircraft, he has the right to file an MOR about the conflict. Did he do this?