African aviation experience

My name’s Harold, I’m 24 from Belgium and I completed my pilot training about one year ago now.

In March 2013 I was given the chance to follow an internship program with Korongo Airlines in the Democratic Republic of Congo! I used to live there when I was a child and it was a great opportunity to go back to this land.

Korongo is headquartered in Lubumbashi and was founded on behalf of Brussels Airlines and other Belgian investors and operates scheduled regional flights across DRC and Johannesburg. It has the ambition to become the reference of flying in DRC with european standards regarding safety, comfort etc.

At that time Korongo flew a single Boeing 737-300WL (OO-LTM) to Kinshasa, Mbuji-Mayi and Johannesburg. I did 35 hours observation flights, the daily maintenance check and familiarization with the operations manuals of the aircraft and of the company. What a great experience it is as Africa does not give the same ‘comfort’ we could have flying airliners in Europe, UAE or USA. No radars, rough runways, unstable weather and african people whose are not used to fly and respect timings.

No radars, so how can the control handle the trafic coming and leaving an airport and manage those in cruise? As soon as we take off we must give ‘estimates’ to multiple points across the route to the controller and as soon as something has to be changed (speed, track, altitude) we have to report it to the controller, should a crew forget to report a point at the previously given estimate it could lead to the launch of the Search and Rescue operations!

One day, as we were flying from Lubumbashi to Mbuji-Mayi, the weather began to rapidly deteriorate with TCUs becoming heavy thunderstorm as the pilots were initiating the approach to land, the weather radar was fully red with magenta dots (electrical activity). The captain decided to abort the descent to avoid weather but in Africa it goes to fast, one lightning strikes just below the aircraft, making a terrible noise but the crew was sure it did not touch the airframe. As soon as we landed in a more fair weather in Mbuji-Mayi the technician did a fast walk around of the aircraft and when inspecting the number one engine we saw 14 lightning impacts on the fairing and a lightning always go out making a bigger hole, its exit was the flap track fairing cone. A big hole in the carbon cone.

The decision was clear, the aircraft was grounded as long as Boeing (Seattle) and Brussels Airlines come to an agreement. Finally, looking at the MEL it was possible to operate the aircraft without both flap track fairing cones  but the aircraft has to fly back to Lubumbashi as a ‘Ferry Flight’ which means crew only! So I had to stay there, in the middle of nowhere waiting 72 hours with other member of the staff. Boring. Anyway it has been a great experience, the captain on that flight never saw such a thing in 35 years and he was pretty sure not many pilots experienced that kind of thing either!

I lost three days there but I will always remember my time with the Korongo team and i’d like to thank them, once again for their welcome, professionalism and team spirit which ensure a great future for the company and the aviation in DRC!

Since then I continue looking for my first job in a cockpit, maintaining my flying skills by flying a Piper Seneca, a twin piston engine in VFR and IFR across France, Switzerland and UK. I also did an aerobatic course on a Robin 2160 in EBNM (Namur) which is a great experience!

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