Is Africa still five times as dangerous?
In 2013 Tony Tyler, then IATA’s Director General and CEO, speaking at the IATA AGM held in Cape Town said that safety is one of the issues preventing Africa from reaching its full potential. The total accident rate for all jet airliners in Africa during 2012 was 10.85 accidents per million flight hours, compared to a world average of 2.00. in other words African airlines are more than five times as dangerous as the world average – which includes some other fairly dangerous places.
The European Community (EU) ‘blacklisted’ a number of African airlines from operating within the UE due to safety concerns over alleged poor maintenance and regulatory oversight.
Improvement began. Gunther Matschnigg, Senior Vice President, Safety, Operations & Infrastructure, explained that, “the total accident rate for Africa has improved compared to last year, but at 7.98 accidents per millions flights, they are still more than four times the global average.”
The global average airline accident rate to end April 2013 stands at 1.73. IATA member airlines, who are held to IOSA’s stricter safety standards, currently have a figure of 0.97.
To address the high African accident rate, IATA and ICAO partnered with various African aviation organisations, to create a task force. The Task Force found that the primary factors responsible for accidents in Africa were:
Lack of Safety Management System implementation
Lack of effective regulatory oversight
Lack of implementation of flight Data Analysis
As task force for the Africa Aviation Safety Summit met in Johannesburg in May 2012. This derived an African Strategic Safety Improvement Action Plan for 2012-2015. This Action Plan subsequently became part of the Abuja Declaration on Aviation Safety in Africa, endorsed by African Ministers responsible for transport, in Abuja in July 2012. The African Union Executive council endorsed the Abuja Declaration and associated Plan of Action during the 22nd Session in Addis Ababa in January 2013. But as Matschnigg said, “it’s a piece of paper, we need to make a commitment out of it.”
This all led to the African Strategic Safety Improvement Plan 2012-2015, which aimed at tackling the poor safety performance of the continent. A key tool is to get African airlines to meet the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) requirements.
Referring to the European Union’s banning of certain airlines in many African countries, airlines agreed to roll out a safety management system in accordance with the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA).
IOSA membership has had a dramatic improvement on airline safety. Tyler said that IATA’s 24 sub-Saharan IOSA compliant members are as safe as the global average and IOSA-registered carriers in Africa registered zero accidents in 2012 and in 2015.
IOSA has been offered to African governments and airlines free of charge, with various workshops held with airlines, regulators and stakeholders. IATA met its target of bringing ten additional African-based airlines onto the IOSA registry by 2015.
This is important as the public’s perception of African airlines is that they are dangerous – more dangerous than alternative modes of transport such as trains and buses. For this reason, airlines not only have to compete against these ground-based modes of transport on price – but also on safety. This will require a major education and marketing initiative.
In the opinion of this writer, the key factors behind the high accident rates are:
Inadequate pilot training – a large portion of accidents are still due to pilot error. Preliminary findings suggest that the Ethiopian 737 Max crash also has elements of inadequate training behind it. Noteworthy too is the 2010 Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 crash after takeoff from Beirut and the 2010 Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771 Airbus A330 crash at Tripoli. Both were pilot error that would not have occurred in pilots trained to full first world standards.
Poor regulatory oversight, it is difficult for the regulators to attract and retain quality inspectors and to create appropriate regulatory structures. The best evidence for this is the EU airline ‘blacklist’.
Inadequate ground infrastructure – particularly a lack of reliable navigation aids and wide coverage of air traffic management services (ATM). This was particularly the case with the 1986 crash of the Tupolev Tu-134 transporting Mozambique President Samora Machel.
Operation of obsolete equipment – due to a shortage of capital many airlines operate older generation western aircraft such as Boeing 727s and ‘classic’ Boeing 737s and in particular Russian turboprop aircraft. Again the Samora Machel crash is a good example.
The environment – which has vast distances and often severe weather in the form of huge thunderstorms, especially in the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone. This was partly responsible for the crash of the Kenya Airways Flight KQ507 New Generation Boeing 737-800 into a swamp at Douala when it took off at midnight into a thunderstorm.
Inadequate Safety Management Systems (SMS). The suicide of the LAM flight TM 470 pilot who deliberately crashed an Embraer 190 in Northern Namibia is a case in point as he had requested to be grounded for depression.
Poor maintenance. African airline fleets are generally older than average, requiring more maintenance and the airlines’ and maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities struggle to retain quality and experienced staff. Perhaps the best known example of a maintenance failure was the engine separation from a Nationwide Boeing 737-200 on takeoff from Cape Town. Fortunately due to excellent pilot skills, the aircraft was later landed safely on the remaining engine.
The European Unions (EU) Air Safety List, commonly (but incorrectly) referred to as the EU Airline Blacklist, was frequently used by travel risk managers and other authorities to help determine the safety of an airline. However, the Air Safety List is widely misunderstood.
The EU Air Safety List is a list of airlines that are not allowed to operate in European airspace. The Air Safety List was introduced in 2006 and is maintained by the European Commission, based on advice from the EU Air Safety Committee. The primary cause of an airline being included on the Air safety List is because the civil aviation authority (CAA) in the airline’s home country provides inadequate oversight of the country’s airline industry. In effect, this means that the EU does not trust a county’s aviation regulator of a country to keep unsafe airlines from operating.
This means that all airlines from such countries are listed on the Air Safety List, unless the airline can prove to the EU that it meets the EUs safety standards. In 2016 there were 20 countries where CAA oversight does not meet EU standards, accounting for 228 of the 230 airlines fully banned from EU airspace.
In most instances, a listing on the Air Safety List does not mean that the EU has inspected a specific airline and found it unsafe, it simply means that the EU does not trust the CAA in the airline’s home country to certify that it is safe. In effect, the EU assumes airlines from countries with inadequate CAA oversight are unsafe unless the airline approaches the EU authorities and proves otherwise. Some of these airlines actually have strong operational and safety practices, but for various reasons they have not approached the EU to seek removal from the Air Safety List.
There are just two airlines listed on the Air Safety List due to safety concerns specific to the airline. Such concerns are most often related to poor aircraft maintenance, obsolete aircraft, or recent accidents.
The Air Safety List is divided into two Annexes. For airlines listed in Annex A, every aircraft in the fleet is banned from EU airspace. Airlines listed in Annex B are allowed to operate flights to the EU with specific aircraft, which are listed in the airlines Air Safety List entry. The cleared aircraft are generally the most modern in the airline’s fleet or have been specifically inspected by EU officials.
An airline listed on the Air Safety List can apply to the European Commission for removal and present proof that its operational and safety practices meet EU standards. The EU will then assess the airline, including its safety record, operational and maintenance standards, and fleet composition. Should the EU determine that the airline meets all relevant international safety standards, it will remove the airline from the Air Safety List.
Although the classification criteria appear simple, in practice they can be subjective due to the complexity of factors involved. Thus, an example of an Annex A airline is Equatorial Congo Airlines. The airline, which operates as ECAir, is listed in Annex A, like all other carriers from the Republic of the Congo. ECAir does not operate its own aircraft, but instead contracts its operations out to European airlines Jetairfly and Privatair. The European airlines provide both the aircraft and the flight crews for the flights, allowing the airline to evade the ban on flights to the EU. Thus, the airline is listed as Preferred in the iJET Worldcue Airline Monitor, contingent on the airline continuing its practice of contracting its flights out to European carriers.
An example of an Annex B airline is TAAG Airlines of Angola, yet all other Angolan carriers are listed in Annex A. All six of the airline’s Boeing 777 aircraft are exempt from the EU ban, as are four of its five Boeing 737-700s. However, all three of the airline’s older Boeing 737-200s were included in the EU ban. The airline has passed IATA’s IOSA Audit, certifying that it meets international safety standards, and is listed as Preferred in the iJET Worldcue Airline Monitor.
Not unnaturally, this ‘blacklist has caused much resentment amongst African airlines and states, especially those adversely affected. The accusation is that it is simply a thinly veiled strategy to prejudice African carriers in favour of the European based carriers which then have less competition on African routes.
Flightglobal reported that African Airlines Association (AFRAA) secretary general Elijah Chingosho has criticised this ‘unfair’ approach. He acknowledged the need for better safety in the region - although statistics have improved, and AFRAA requires its members to pass IATA’s IOSA - but he criticised the blacklist which, he maintains, smears the entire continent’s airlines. Flightglobal quotes Chingosho; “Many of these airlines had no intention [of flying], or had no aircraft they could fly into Europe. They had no plans to do so,” he said, noting that a blacklist containing 100 African airlines gave passengers the perception that even high-standard operators are unsafe. “Why not publish a list of safe airlines?”
AFRAA criticised the blanket ban on Mozambican carriers, including LAM Mozambique, and restrictions on Air Madagascar, arguing that both carriers had passed IATA audits and had good safety records.
Chingosho singled out France for rebuke, suggesting it was instrumental in shaping the blacklist and that Air France benefited. Nine out of 10 of Air France’s most profitable routes are African, he claimed. Air France rejects this, stating: “We always try to co-operate with local carriers, to find a partner for domestic flights. Knowing the growth rates, strong African carriers would be beneficial to us. It brings competition but at least it also gets people flying regionally.”
And then there is the obvious question - if a country’s entire aviation infrastructure is deemed unsafe, no airline should be allowed to operate there, Chingosho added. “If a country is unsafe, why would it be safe for European airlines to fly into it?” he asks. “It would carry more weight if they were to say EU airlines are banned from flying there because it is unsafe.”
Thus, when Mozambique was added to the ‘blacklist’ in 2011 AFRAA complained that the decision unfairly penalises LAM Mozambique Airlines’, which has an “impeccable” safety record. “Since the company was established in 1980; it has not had a single major accident. And since 1989 there have been no accidents of any kind involving LAM Mozambique Airlines aircraft. Major European airlines can make no such claim.” (This was before the LAM Flight 470 suicide crash in northern Namibia in 2013.)
AFRAA compared LAM to Air France, which, it claims, has had 23 major accidents since 1990, three of them with fatalities.
LAM Mozambique Airlines, the statement says, attained the IATA Safety Audit Certification in 2007, which was renewed in 2009. “AfRAA fails to see how such blanket banning contributes to encourage African carriers which strive to achieve industry best practices in safety standards,” the statement continues. “The banning of an airline not only prohibits the airline from operating to the EU, but also impacts its ticket sales to other destinations, including on code shared routes, as travel agents and other code share partners in EU are required by regulation at the time of sales or booking to notify passengers that the airline is blacklisted. While the net losers are African carriers, the net beneficiaries are always the EU Community carriers that swiftly step in to fill the vacuum and take the market share of the banned airlines.”
An Unfair Blanket Ban
IATA admitted that the list of airlines banned from the EU included several that are safe, that and the EU failed to aid others needing practical help. Tyler said the EU let European airlines serve countries whose own carriers were banned not necessarily as a result of the failings of non-EU carriers, but because of concerns over regulation of airspace.
The report quotes Tyler: “The airlines on the EU blacklist are on it because the EU hasn’t adequate confidence in the safety oversight provided by regulatory authorities, so the airline can be perfectly safe but the EU decides the regulator isn’t doing its job. It smacks of double standards and is the wrong approach. The right one is to get in there and help resolve the deficiency in regulatory oversight. Let’s go and assist the regulators to remedy that deficiency - putting their airlines on a blacklist isn’t the right approach,” Tyler said.”
In conclusion, a Business Travel report quotes a spokesman for the European Commission: “The safety performance of an airline depends on several factors, not only on the airworthiness of aircraft: for instance, pilot and crew training and fitness and airline safety procedures,” he said.