Sara Tatelman
Corporate Risk
Improving African airline safety | Canadian Insurance
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Improving African airline safety

You just don’t hear about Jet Congo the way you hear about Qantas. Maybe that’s because African airlines make up about three percent of global air traffic, but were responsible for 43 percent of fatal accidents in 2014. Plus, airlines from 15 African states, including Zambia, Sudan and Mozambique, are banned from entering EU airspace due to safety concerns.

While countries like South Africa, Kenya and Morocco operate modern airports that meet international safety criteria, planes dropping off supplies in South Sudanese refugee camps don’t have access to “real, established airports,” says Harro Ranter, president of the Aviation Safety Network, which collects data on flight accidents. “So all operations are taking place from simple airstrips, which have different safety levels compared to wellequipped airports with fire services and navigation equipment…” Last year, South Sudan and the DRC each saw two fatal crashes by aircrafts that seat at least 14 people.

Tom Kok, director of the AviAssist Foundation, which aims to improve flight safety in Africa, says many governments “have woken up to the fact that ‘hey, if we don’t meet those international requirements, it means we cannot fly across borders…’ And for so many of them, Europe is the natural background. Training routes have always been that way.” The EU has lifted their ban on some airlines, as when Taag Angola met international safety standards, but all other Angolan carriers remain on the blacklist. It can be expensive to rejig an airline’s safety standards, and regional grouping offers a cost-effective way to do so. As members of CASSOA, the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Agency, five countries in East Africa— Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi—share aviation safety resources to achieve standards they wouldn’t be able to reach on their own. “…If, in a country, there are only two Boeing 737s flying around and you want an inspector to be able to inspect those,” says Kok, “even if you find a person, it will be a very dull job because that person would only have those two aircraft to inspect, and perhaps a few others.”

CASSOA countries are harmonizing their operating regulations to be able to share technical personnel. Kok says the five countries also “work on similar passports, they work on import duties, so it’s a much broader corporation, which also includes aviation safety.”

Flight safety can also be compromised when frontline employees don’t get the training they need. Many civil servants from sub-Saharan countries traveling abroad for training receive per diems that translate to substantial buying power at home. “And as a result of that, you can imagine there’s a lot of competition to get access to such training,” says Kok. “Not necessarily because of the need for that particular training… but because people want access to those funds. And that’s not an issue of corruption. That’s people trying to pay the school fees for their kids.”

So junior government inspectors, as well as pilots and engineers from smaller airlines, often don’t receive necessary training if the sessions are abroad, but their bosses get to go. AviAssist offers training in African countries to improve accessibility and safety. Courses include transport of dangerous goods, wildlife management and airport firefighting “with lots of practical sessions.”

Many airlines, though, might still need marketing training: at an AviAssist’s conference last year, insurance brokerage Aon was shocked to learn some carriers don’t promote recent investments in safety. “At the moment,” says Kok, “all that’s being reviewed by [some] insurance companies is the global average and the African average for accidents… [If operators] can prove they’re investing in training, for example, that will certainly help from the insurance aspect as well.”

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Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the May 2015 edition of Corporate Risk Canada magazine