Airexplore B738 enroute on Jul 19th 2020, who was in control of the aircraft?

Last Update: March 9, 2021 / 08:47:56 GMT/Zulu time

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Incident Facts

Date of incident
Jul 19, 2020

Classification
Incident

Airline
AirExplore

Destination
Split, Croatia

Aircraft Registration
OM-LEX

Aircraft Type
Boeing 737-800

ICAO Type Designator
B738

An Airexplore Boeing 737-800, registration OM-LEX performing inauguration flight ED-3830 from Bratislava (Slovakia) to Split (Croatia), became major attraction when the crew walked to board the aircraft. Flight crew and cabin crew were led by a small boy fully badged as crew member. Observers joked "The new captain". The aircraft subsequently departed. While climbing through FL310 a photo was taken showing the captain's son sitting on the captain's seat between the legs of the captain, who had his feet on the rudder pedals. The aircraft completed the flight with a safe landing in Split. The return flight also performed a safe landing back in Bratislava.

On Jan 25th 2021 The Aviation Herald received an information: "It was leaked from Slovak CAA (NSAT) that on 19th of July 2020 during flight from Bratislava LZIB to Split LDSP operated by company Airexplore a small boy (son of PIC) occupied a pilots seat during enroute flight. PIC took the pictures and uploaded it on social network.Later it was reported by anonym to Slovak NSAT but it was managed without any consequences for operator and only with temporary suspension of TRI privilege for a PIC, That was all." We queried our source for the photos that had been published on a social network, however, our source was not in possession of the photos and could not obtain them. The captain had, after the photos had been forwarded to NSAT, deleted them on his social media accounts.

We were able to find photos of the crew walking in the terminal of Bratislava, led by the captain's son, on the official account of Airexplore (see below).

In the following we were able to identify the captain and the first officer with their full names and access their public social media accounts. We found another photo on the captain's account showing his son in the lap of the captain while the captain occupied the left hand pilot seat in a private aircraft. It became clear as result of that research that the captain in question is also co-owner of Airexplore.

In addition we were able to find a photo by Slovakia's newsmedia Novycas showing the captain with his son on his lap while seated in the left hand seat of the cockpit while the aircraft was still at the gate in Bratislava. A photo on the Airexplore's social media account verified, that this photo had been taken on Jul 19th 2020.

The Aviation Herald teamed up with Novycas (and requested the rights to use their photo). The event was cross checked several times with different pilots in Slovakia, who all knew the photos on the social media account of the captain. However, again, neither of them had secured the photos.

A check with the list of approved examiners by NSAT revealed that the captain had been listed as instructor (TRI) and examiner (TRE) with NSAT at least since 2014, however, the name was missing in the last list released in October 2020.

We launched an according inquiry with Slovak's NSAT (Civil Aviation Authority CAA) on Feb 9th 2021 also bringing the photo showing the captain's son on the captain's lap in a private aircraft, that was still publically available on the captain's social media account, to the attention of NSAT, however, received a reply on Feb 17th 2021, that according to national law any inquiry - aiming to use the freedom of information act of Slovakia - has to be provided in Slovak Language, hence the NSAT declined any reply to our English inquiry (Slovakia is member of the European Union since May 1st 2004). Using translation software we thus translated the inquiry to Slovak Language and offered NSAT to reply in Slovak, English or German as preferred also expressing our puzzlement that an Aviation Authority refuses to accept English inquiries. We submitted our translated inquiry on Feb 17th 2021, so far we are still waiting for their reply to our inquiry.

Our Slovak counterparts also sent several inquiries to NSAT, which were almost all entirely blocked off citing privacy protection by NSAT Lawyers. However, on Feb 24th 2021 Novycas received a reply to one of their inquiries in which NSAT confirmed they had received a complaint about an incident on the flight from Bratislava to Split, in which a "non-standard situation in flight" was described. NSAT continued that the Transport Authority while investigating the reported situation has found misconduct on the part of the captain. Corrective and preventive measures have been taken with the airline to prevent a similiar situation in the future. The airline took internal sanctions against the captain in compliance with the corrective and preventive measures taken. When asked about Aeroflot's flight 593 (an Airbus A310-300 registration F-OGQS, which crashed on March 23rd 1994 after the 16 year old son of the captain had taken the pilot's seat and unknowingly disengaged the autopilot with the first officer still in the seat unable to recover the aircraft from the upset - 63 passengers and 12 crew lost their lives in that crash, see Report: Aeroflot A313 near Novosibirsk on Mar 23rd 1994, captain's son in left seat, aircraft was not recovered ), NSAT stated that the incident in question can not be compared to that Aeroflot flight. NSAT also stated, that the occurrence has been filed with the European Coordination Center for Accident and Incident Reporting Systems (ECCAIRS) and re-iterated that procedures have been implemented with the operator so that a similiar occurrence can not occur again.

While developing the first draft of our coverage on Feb 24th 2021 a re-check of all resources revealed, that Airexplore had removed the photos showing the captain's son in the briefing room and walking in the terminal from their social media accounts.

On Mar 8th 2021 we (our Slovak counterparts and us) were able to get hold of a copy of the photo showing the boy in the captain's seat sitting between the legs of his father (see below).

On Mar 8th 2021 Airexplore sent a statement writing:

the captain's son sat between the captain's legs, the son's hand was on the father's knee. The mere fact that a child was in the cockpit was not a violation of company procedures at the time, however, the misconduct occurred when the captain permitted his son to sit between his legs. The mistake was acknowledged by the company and the captain. This happened during a stage of the flight when distraction by passengers was permitted. The captain had handed the controls and communicatin to the first officer as is normally done when the captain needs to take a toilet break. The aircraft was fully under control by licensed and trained specialist personnell throughout the flight.

On Aug 11th 2020 the airline received information that the flight in question is under investigation by the Transport Authority based on an anonymous report. The company initiated an internal investigation and when the company found the misconduct, they reported the event to the Ministry of Transport and Construction of the Slovak Republic.

Based on the situation precautions were taken which mainly consisted in grounding the flight crew until the event was investigated, which continued for several weeks. Following the findings a corrective plan was established and submitted to the Authorities for approval.

The corrective plan consists in adjusting company practises to avoid the situation, in particular restricting access to the cockpit for persons below 16 years of age, and requiring such permits to be issued by two managers of the airline. The plan by the airline also involved the demotion of the captain to a lower position within the company.

The airline was fully cooperating and transparent with the transport supervisory authorities and its own investigative bodies. We are sorry for the misconduct and apologize to the passengers who were concerned. But we want to re-assure the public that safety is an absolute priority for our society. The combination of state professional supervision and internal monitoring processes helps us to identify and minimize risks associated with the "human factor". In rare cases of misconduct, as has happened in this case, we respond efficiently and with a healthy dose of self-reflection.
Incident Facts

Date of incident
Jul 19, 2020

Classification
Incident

Airline
AirExplore

Destination
Split, Croatia

Aircraft Registration
OM-LEX

Aircraft Type
Boeing 737-800

ICAO Type Designator
B738

This article is published under license from Avherald.com. © of text by Avherald.com.
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