Bogus pilot finally grounded after 20-year scam

William Chandler was acting as Senior First Officer on a SAA flight between Johannesburg and Frankfurt in November 2018 when the Airbus A340-600 he was operating encountered turbulence over the Swiss Alps. In response, the aircraft made some erratic maneuvers and although it landed safely, the incidence led to a routine safety investigation into the flight.

It was only then, after Chandler had been employed as a pilot with SAA for more than 20 years, that his bogus credentials were exposed.

How he got away with it?

While Chandler did hold a commercial pilot license (CPL), he also claimed to have a valid airline transport pilot license (ATPL), a prerequisite for all pilots flying large aircraft on long-haul routes.

To obtain an ATPL, pilots must pass a series of technical, theoretical and medical exams, plus complete a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying time. Once awarded, the license must be refreshed annually and allows a pilot to act as pilot-in-command in international flights. During its investigation into the November 2018 flight to Germany, SAA discovered that Chandler’s ATPL was a forgery.

Sources at the airline however, suggest this deception should have been detected long ago. Despite his tenure at SAA, Chandler repeatedly turned down promotions to captain, which would have required he resubmit his ATPL and lead the company to closely scrutinise his credentials.

How could SAA have prevented Chandler’s deception?

Through thorough vetting of its staff, including third-party verification of its employees’ licenses and qualifications, SAA would have undoubtedly exposed Chandler’s fraud long before he took to the skies with thousands of lives in his care.

According to an SAA spokesperson, the airline is now taking steps to make sure it’s pilots are thoroughly screened – the airline now sends all its pilots’ licenses to the South African Civil Aviation Authority to be audited.

The company also said it will obtain all relevant licenses from examination bodies going forward, rather than from individual employees.

Although Chandler immediately resigned following his unmasking, SAA has opened a criminal case of fraud against the former employee in a bid to recoup millions of Rand in overpaid salary, overtime and benefits.

Chandler’s membership to The Air Line Pilot’s Association – one of the unions representing SAA – has also been revoked.

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