THE Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) yesterday blamed the Airport Company SA (Acsa) for an SA Airlink jet's aquaplaning off the end of George Airport's runway in December.

The authority found that the runway surface was instrumental in causing the accident.

The finding vindicates SA Airlink, which came under intense financial pressure after its Jetstream fleet was grounded over Christmas.

The authority's accident investigation unit said in its interim report that the type of sealant used to resurface the runway in November "could be considered to have been the primary probable cause of the occurrence of aquaplaning".

Acsa spokesman Solomon Makgale said last night that the airport operator could not comment as it was still studying the authority's report.

Until now, Acsa has denied that the runway could have played a role in the accident, claiming it had adhered to International Civil Aviation Organisation standards.

However, it has already begun resurfacing the runway, and the work is due to be completed by the middle of this month.

The authority's report is likely to strengthen a legal case being brought against Acsa by Airlink's insurers.

SA Airlink CEO Rodger Foster confirmed last night that the consortium of underwriters, led by Houston Casualty Company, had already served papers on Acsa.

SA Airlink welcomed the report yesterday. "The finding by the CAA that Airlink was not in any way to blame for the George accident is a further affirmation of Airlink's integrity as a serious and committed airline to upholding the highest international operational and safety standards," said Foster.

The authority recommended a prohibition on the use of sealants on runway surfaces. Acsa was unable to confirm how many of its other runways had used the same resurfacing technique. But it is likely other airports will be affected if the authority implements the accident investigation unit's recommendations.

The report also recommended that the authority beef up its aerodrome inspection department.

In the report, the authority said that the pilots involved had landed at George Airport in wet conditions many times before, but this was their first landing in wet runway conditions since the rehabilitation project was completed.

A review of the digital flight recorder and cockpit voice recorder did not indicate any significant deviation from standard operating procedures. All indications were that the aircraft was serviceable, and that the antiskid braking system of the aircraft worked as it should have.

baumannj@bdfm.co.za