Africa’s Aviation Safety Standards: How Effective?

How drastically do safety standards differ between aviation authorities across Africa, and what can be done to standardize them? Simon Pickering explores, highlighting why African owners and operators should hold themselves to the highest standard, regardless…

Guest Posts  |  Simon Pickering  |  10th August 2022
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    Simon Pickering
    Simon Pickering

    Bombardier Global private jet parked on African airport ramp

    African aviation has a long history of failing to meet the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standards of Safety. Across the continent, many private air operators are restricted from flying in European airspace.

    There are a number of initiatives aimed at improving the standard of aviation safety throughout Africa. One of the most important of these is the ICAO Comprehensive Regional Implantation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa (AFI Plan).

    In this article, we look at the effectiveness of these on aviation safety standards in Africa, and the role that private air operators play in maintaining safety standards when regulatory authorities are lacking in explicit guidance.

    EU Safety List Findings for 2022

    The latest EU safety list was released in May. This document is produced by the European Commission and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and provides valuable insights into the varying standards of safety that different African countries achieve.

    It’s acknowledged there is a total lack of information for some nations since the regulatory oversight authorities in these countries cannot provide the necessary information. Where that’s the case, air operators are forced to maintain their own safety standards and continue operating without sufficient auditing by the state authority.

    One example is Angola where all the air operators certified by the authorities are banned from flying in EU airspace, due to a total lack of information provided by the Angolan Aviation Authority.

    However, EASA recognizes two exceptions to this ban. Both Heli Malongo and TAAG Angolan Airlines are exempt because they independently maintain a high standard of safety and record-keeping. These operators demonstrate that even in situations where state regulatory authorities are below par it’s still possible to achieve a credible safety standard.

    Angola is not the only country struggling to meet international safety standards. Congo (Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Liberia, Libya, Sierra Leone, and Sudan are all included on the list.

    What are the Consequences of Poor Safety Standards?

    Air operators in these countries are faced with a dilemma. If their local regulatory authority holds low standards, can they afford to hold equally low standards?

    Apart from the obvious risks involved with operating in an unregulated environment, there are several other consequences to consider. These may be less severe than an accident involving loss of life or a hull loss, but they are still significant.

    Resale Value: The most important consideration is the resale value of the aircraft. Very few buyers will touch an aircraft with a questionable maintenance log. Failure to carry out periodic inspections and record these in an acceptable way can erode the aircraft’s value in the eyes of many buyers.

    Without adequate maintenance records for their aircraft, owners will struggle to find buyers, and those who are willing to take on the liability of a poorly maintained aircraft will only offer a fraction of the price.

    Credibility of Operation: How long will potential customers and clients (in the case of charter operators) use a service that fails to meet accepted international safety standards? Corporations use private aviation to transport their top staff, while private users do so to fly with friends and family. Neither are likely to take unnecessary risk in this respect.

    Despite the fact competition between operators may not be as vigorous as in other world regions, the ultimate longevity of any operator depends on having an acceptable safety record that is available for customers to review upon request.

    What Initiatives are Aimed at Improving Aviation Safety in Africa?

    Nigeria recently hosted the seventh edition of ICAO’s AFI Aviation Week. It was attended by 17 regional and international organizations, representing 46 states in the African and Indian Ocean region. This was the ninth time that various African Director Generals of Civil Aviation met with government and aviation industry officials.

    One of the outcomes of this event was a decision to develop a strategic plan to strengthen the Regional Safety Oversight Organizations (RSOOs) in Africa. This involves providing online training to the least developed countries in the region and increasing the training opportunities for countries with poor internet connectivity.

    There were specific requests made by Guinea and Burundi for additional support in safety training. As a result, these countries will receive guidance from the Association of African Training Organizations (AATO).

    Another positive outcome was that Rwanda offered to develop a dashboard to monitor the progress of the Abuja safety targets. These safety milestones were created by the African Civil Aviation Commission (AfCAC) in 2012 and were reviewed in 2017.

    The Abuja safety targets identify 16 goals which member states are encouraged to monitor and comply with. These include reducing the accident rate in Africa to 2.5 per million departures and strengthening regional aviation authorities so that they’re capable of independent regulatory oversight.

    AfCAC has offered to support Rwanda in the development of this digital dashboard and to coordinate with RSOOs to improve access to safety data. The ICAO Council President and Secretary General also made a commitment to engage with states that are not cooperating by addressing their safety shortcomings.

    ICAO will coordinate with AfCAC to evaluate the progress of the Abuja Safety Targets. This assessment will focus on bringing them into line with the ICAO's Global Aviation Safety Plan (GASP).

    Indicators That Aviation Safety in Africa is Improving

    AFRAA is working closely with IATA and AfCAC on a three-year safety program. There are two main objectives of this program:

    • Identify African aviation companies that are in need of assistance. Once identified AFRAA will assist in carrying out a gap analysis to pinpoint deficiencies. (The next step is to conduct quality and safety management systems training for the relevant personnel.)
    • Improve the safety standards of airports in Africa. AFRAA is pushing for all African airports to conduct the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO), used to access an airport's ability to conform to global industry standards in the management and oversight of ground operations.

    Thus far ISAGO has audited and accredited 36 airports across Africa. Considering how extensive these audits are, that’s a good sign that many African airports are making progress toward reducing ramp accidents and improving flight safety.

    What Does the Future Hold for African Aviation Safety?

    During the recent AFI Aviation Week, the ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar suggested that “Nothing can connect Africa more efficiently and more reliably than air transport does”.

    He added, “ICAO's number one priority in the near-term is the recovery of African air transport so that it can safely regain its status as the fastest growing air transport market in the world. This means addressing regulatory barriers and financial constraints”.

    Both these issues are critically important challenges to aviation safety in Africa. African states need to provide their aviation authorities with sufficient resources to develop robust safety oversight systems. Without adequate funding, there will always be a gap between safety objectives and reality.

    In countries where the political will to support aviation authorities is lacking, the onus shifts to individual air operators. In these states, both General Aviation and scheduled airlines need to establish, and adhere to international safety standards. This is vital for their safety and credibility.

    About the Author: 
    Simon Pickering is a content writer for the aviation digital marketing agency AOM.Digital. He writes on a wide variety of topics including aviation, drone technology, and sustainability. He previously worked in private security and HEMS as a helicopter pilot and safety officer in South Africa and Mozambique.

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