In the November 2010 air news we have this article reporting on the safety concerns by African air operators.
Aviation safety in Africa has been a question of grave concern for all stakeholders involved in the global airline industry-Africa accounting for only three percent of the world’s air transport industry yet 25 percent of aircraft accidents occur in this continent.
Due to the sporadic air crashes that occur in different regions of Africa from time to time, older generation aircraft operating in the continent have been labeled “flying coffins”.
Aviation safety remains the most critical challenge to Africa. Although there are several carriers in the continent with commendable records, the average safety level in the region calls for urgent attention.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has often referred to the growing concern internationally about the safety of civil aviation in Africa and has stressed the need to make Africas skies safer. And there is plenty of reason for ICAO to worry about Africa’s safety records.
In 2009 Africa had the worst accident rate in the world. According to an International Air Transport Association (IATA) recent report on world aircraft accidents, Africa’s Western jet losses per million sectors surged from 2, 32 in 2008 to an alarming 6, 62 in 2009.
In contrast, the overall regional accident rates for the world decreased from an average of 0, 92 in 2008 to 0, 57 last year.
Africa’s accident rate is more than twice that of the Middle East, which ranked the as the second worst and six times greater than the third worst area, Australasia/Pacific.
Statistics obtained from the Flight Safety Foundation indicate that in the past ten years (20000 to 2009) a total of 91 aircraft accidents occurred in Africa, of which 26 were in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 14 in Sudan, 8 in Kenya, 7 in Nigeria, 6 in Angola, 3 each in Egypt and Gabon and 24 in the rest of African countries combined .These exclude general aviation accidents.
The DRC and Sudan accounted for 44% of all the fatal accidents on the continent in the ten year period. The top five countries-DRC, Sudan, Angola, Kenya and Nigeria-accounted for about 67, 1% of all the accidents an continent.
According to the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), the two countries (DRC and Sudan) involved in most accidents were engaged in civil war for most or part of the period 2000-2009 and hence safety oversight would not have been possible I parts of the country.
In a written response sent to World Air news AFRAA said “Five of the six accidents in Angola took place in 2000 and 2001 when the country was still involved in a civil war. After the civil war and the ban on the use of ageing aircraft from the former USSR in civil air transport services in 2003, accident rates in that country dropped sharply.”
This year, two major African carriers, Ethiopian and Afriquaya, suffered catastrophic accidents. On January 25,an Ethiopian Boeing 737-800 crashed an the coast of Beirut few minutes after take off and all the 90 people on board the aircraft perished.Ethiopias national flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines is one of the few African carriers that has a commendable safety record.
In May, an Airbus 330 of the Libyan carrier, Afriquaya, crashed near Tripoli killing 104 people on board. The causes of the two accidents have not yet been disclosed by the concerned authorities as investigations were not finalized at the time of writing.
“The safety record in Africa is worrisome. In some regions it is disturbing,” said Dr. Harold Demuren, director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.”In 2005 and 2006 Nigeria had three major fatal aircraft accidents in its own airspace that involved three Nigerian private airlines. In the wake of the tragic accidents the Nigerian Government took strong action with the view to improving the country’s poor safety record.”
The African Airlines Association commented:”In Nigeria, following establishment of a more autonomous civil aviation authority under a professional Director-General and some directives concerning the age of aircraft that can be imported into the country, accident rates have fallen sharply.However, not much has changed in the DRC and Sudan and these two countries continue to register high accident rates on this day.”
International civil aviation authorities have continued imposing bans on many airlines in Africa due to poor safety records. Negative remarks made about African aviation safety record are tarnishing the continents image and thereby affecting the thriving African airline industry.Africas civil aviation authorities protest mass condemnations.
In April 2010, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced the list of airlines banned from the EU air space due to safety concerns. Thirteen of the 17 countries affected by the EU ban are from Africa with a total of 111 African airlines “black listed”.
AFRAA has furiously protested the EUs blacklist.AFRAA says air safety is the association’s number one priority and it admits that Africa needs to improve its air safety record. However, it says the EUs list is undermining international confidence in the African airline industry.
“The ultimate beneficiaries of the ban are European airlines which dominate the African skies to the disadvantage of African carriers. If any list is to be published it should be done so by ICAO, the global regulator of aviation safety, which has a known track record of impartiality,” said Nick Fadugba, former secretary general AFRAA and CEO of African Aviation Services Limited.
According to AFRAA, the EU list has the effect of damaging the reputation and business of many scheduled African airlines whose safety records and adherence to ICAO safety standards are comparable to the best airlines anywhere in the world. The Association contends that a detailed examination of the EU list reveals some contradictions.
“The majorities of the African airlines on the list have never operated scheduled flights to Europe, do not have plans to do so and have no aircraft with the range to fly to any EU state.
The list includes many airlines that exist on only paper and are not operational. The list indicates neither the operating license nor the ICAO registration number of most of the banned airlines,”AFRAA said.
EASA said most of the banned airlines did not actually fly to any European destinations.However; the ban was intended as a primitive measure to ensure that the airlines could not be subcontracted by larger carriers thereby “sneaking in through backdoors.”
In contrast to the position taken by the EU on African safety challenges, the USA introduced the “safe skies for Africa” initiative aimed at upgrading capacity, developing skills and providing infrastructure to improve safety.AFRAA said all this effort was being done by the US at a time when only few US airlines were operating to Africa.AFRAA called upon the EU to emulate the good example of the US and launch an air safety improvement for Africa rather than issue a “blacklist” which had not been helpful in solving the problems.
The association said it was ready to engage the EU and other stakeholders in constructive dialogue to find amicable solutions to the air safety challenges in Africa.
Ethiopian CEO, Girma Wake supports AFRAAs stance.”The small private airlines operating in some war-torn African countries have aviation safety problems. But none of the major African carriers that are a member of IATA and AFRAA has safety problems.
“A number of African national carriers which fly to Europe and other regions have excellent safety records,” Wake said. He added: “Unfortunately, there are interested groups who want to cast bad image on these commendable African carriers which compete with mega European and other carriers on international routes.”
Gaoussou Konate,IATAs technical director for Africa, said that one of the main contributing factors for the high accident rate was the lack of safety management at airlines. Airports and air navigation service providers.
“Poor regulatory oversight at state level and crew proficiency problems are some of the contributing factors,” he noted.
D. Harold Demuren, of Nigeria, commented that most African states were not complying with ICAOs safety standards.”Ineffective safety oversight, acute shortage of highly skilled personnel and operating ageing and poorly maintained aircraft are among the list of problems facing the air transport industry in Africa.
“Foreign aircraft operating in Africa cause many fatal accidents, he said, adding:”Several countries lease old aircraft with foreign registry that are banned from flying in other parts of the world. Some of these aircraft carry fake safety certificates, flight licenses, and insurance papers. I need to stress that nearly half of all accidents that occur in Africa involve aircraft with foreign registry.”
Skip Nelson, president of Alaska-based navigation experts ADS-B Technologies, shares Derumens view. He said that Africa had become a dumping ground for aircraft that might not be qualified to fly elsewhere in the world.”Poor maintenance, lack of certified mechanics and reliable parts, poorly trained pilots, old navigational aids and weak operational control are the major problems,” he observed.
Critics say that some African airlines purchase or lease old and rickety Soviet-era aircraft without safety records and for which spare parts are almost impossible to find. Africa has the oldest airline fleet in the world with an average age of 18 years.
AFRAA is the industry body which represents most of the major airlines from all corners of the African continent.
One of its major activities is to facilitate cooperation among airlines in the area of safety and security.
Experts from some of the more developed airlines are used as resource persons in training programmers hosted by airlines or used as advisers on safety issues. This has made it cost-effective for airlines to obtain the expertise they need.AFRAA says it is doing several activities to address safety issues in Africa.
The association sought funding from the EU for training programmes in 2007/2008 focusing on safety and it is collaborating closely with IATA and ICAO o sensitize stakeholders about their responsibilities with respect to maintaining world-class levels of safety on the continent.
It also works closely with IATA in the provision of safety training within the continent and hosts seminars and workshops on subjects including safety and emergency planning and disaster management.
The association collaborates with the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and through other regional organizations (such as COMESA and SADC) where the association shares safety information and collaborates with them to facilitate the attainment of high levels of safety.
It encourages and lobbies African states to publish results of any accident investigation so that stakeholders can learn from these to improve safety. It also lobbies states to provide adequate search and rescue services to minimize casualties in unfortunate event of an accident.
AFRAA has encouraged all African airlines to adopt the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) so as to increase operational safety of carriers and ensure that African airlines operate at world class levels of safety and security.
It has also called upon sates of stringently carry out their safety oversight of carriers particularly the cargo, on-request flights and charters which contribute disproportionately to accidents on the continent.
Anthony Juma is the Editor and Senior Aviation Director at Wings Over Africa Aviation.
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