Army aircraft sabotaged
Police are investigating the apparent sabotage of two aircraft that were being maintained at Brussels Airport by Sabena Technics, the Zaventem-based company that once formed part of the national airline. One of the aircraft was confirmed as a military C-130 transport plane, while the other belonged to Brussels Airlines.
Disgruntled employee suspected
Last week, federal secretary of state for mobility Etienne Schouppe informed police and the public prosecutor about the incident, which was first brought to light by inspectors at the company itself. According to a statement issued by Schouppe, two aircraft had shown faults “which could not be attributed to carelessness or error. Everything points to deliberate human intervention”. He also claimed the anomalies found could have endangered passengers and crew.
Unions and management at Sabena Technics later expressed dismay at Schouppe’s statement. The company had discovered the damage the week before and reported the circumstances to Schouppe’s department, but thought the matter would be dealt with discreetly. The issue is a sensitive one, as the company is planning more than 370 job cuts from a workforce of 1,090, and unions have taken industrial action.
“It’s not true that a disaster was averted at the last minute,” said Sabena Technics director Willy Buysse. “Schouppe is panic-mongering.” He pointed out that the company had implemented additional security measures as soon as the case came to light, with access to the maintenance hangars strictly controlled and CCTVs installed. Airlines with planes serviced by Sabena Technics in the recent past were notified to allow them to carry out emergency checks. None of the nine planes serviced since early January were found to be at fault.
The difficult industrial relations situation at the company could be the key to the mystery of the sabotage. The prosecutor’s office has begun interviewing employees, but, according to a spokesman, this could take months because of the large number of workers who came in contact with the aircraft. Both management and investigators are working on the hypothesis that the sabotage was a gesture by a disgruntled worker or workers. None of the three cables cut was critical, Buysse said, and the damage was clearly visible to inspectors, so that the planes were never in any danger.
“The aircraft would never have left the ground,” Ivan Becuwe, an expert in aircraft technology, told De Standaard. “The damage is serious enough, but there are so many checks these days that it would certainly have been spotted.” According to the company, the damage on one of the two aircraft was limited to cables connecting the cockpit with the intercom, the landing gear and fuel temperature sensors.
“We can’t rule out that a worker may have wanted to take revenge,” said a union representative. “It goes without saying that a reaction like that is unacceptable. But it is also unacceptable that Schouppe blames more than 1,000 workers over one bad apple.”