An Airbus A340-346 operated by South African Airways experienced a critical flight incident in 2018 due to abrupt high-altitude wind changes.

Report of the German Federal Bureau stated that the pilots' training simulator did not accurately simulate such wind conditions.

Post-incident, SAA has enhanced its monitoring of pilot training and implemented procedures to ensure software consistency between training simulators and actual aircraft.

FRANKFURT — A recent report from the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation has shed light on a critical incident involving an Airbus A340-346 operated by South African Airways (SAA) in 2018. The aircraft, traveling from Johannesburg to Frankfurt with 259 passengers, momentarily lost control due to unexpected high-altitude wind changes, pushing it beyond its top operating speed.

The inquiry noted that while the flight crew was seasoned, their reaction to the wind shift was inadequate, pushing the plane perilously close to stalling. It was revealed that the training simulator the pilots had used didn't accurately replicate these specific wind conditions. Moreover, it emerged that the software update issued by the aircraft manufacturer in 2006, which might have addressed this training gap, wasn't installed. The report criticized the airline for this oversight, stating, "The training department should have noticed and remedied this deficit."

The real-time situation was further compounded by a lack of training materials to guide the pilots in such emergencies. Fortunately, no injuries or damages were reported when the incident took place over Clariden, Switzerland.

Notably, the report classified the incident as "serious", highlighting that the risk of an accident was high. In response to the aircraft’s erratic behavior, the commanding pilot switched off the autopilot and manually regained control. Despite the plane's built-in high-speed protections, the stall warning system was triggered multiple times.

The investigators pointed out that the crew's coordination during the ordeal was less than optimal, particularly in analyzing the situation and executing corrective procedures. They concluded that more rigorous high-altitude training, replicating abrupt wind changes, might have reduced the pilots' unpreparedness. The probe also discovered that one of the co-pilots didn’t fulfill licensing requirements for commercial operations.

In its aftermath, SAA has refined its procedures to ensure consistency between simulator software and the actual aircraft version. Monitoring of pilot training has also been intensified.

Reacting to the report's publication, SAA stated that it was aware of the document but hadn't officially received it yet. Emphasizing that the incident preceded the airline's recent restructuring and new leadership, the airline assured that upon formal receipt, a comprehensive review would be conducted, and necessary actions would be implemented.