Measures that help African nations to pool resources and help weaker members to improve their aviation oversight activities are having a real effect in raising safety standards throughout the continent.
Not so long ago, Africa was considered to be an accident blackspot, a continent where airlines with a sketchy grasp of safety and poor regulatory oversight combined to pull down the global average of airline accidents.
Much has changed in recent years, as international organisations and national governments come together to improve safety standards. In fact, noted Mam Sait Jallow (photo), the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) regional director for western and central Africa, although still higher than the world average, accident rates in the region have been decreasing and there were no fatal accidents in Africa in 2015.
Africa was the first region globally to set aviation safety targets, through a portfolio of measures agreed at a conference of transport ministers on aviation safety in Africa, held in Abuja, Nigeria in 2012.
“Those targets have helped us focus on directing our assistance to the regional priorities,” said Jallow. “Today, around half of African countries have met the key target of attaining a safety oversight effective implementation level of 60%. A number of other states are making reasonable progress towards the targets, but there are still around 10% that are struggling and that we are assisting as priority.
“In support of its ‘no country left behind’ initiative, the ICAO Council introduced the ‘council president certificate’ to recognise states that have made significant progress in resolving their safety oversight deficiencies and improving the effective implementation of ICAO standards and recommended practices. Such certificates were issued for the first time during the ICAO Assembly in Montreal in 2016, when out of 14 recipient states, five were African.”
One indicator of the improving safety landscape on the continent comes in the form of ICAO’s ‘significant safety concerns’ (SSCs). The complete resolution of these is one of the Abuja safety targets. In the past five years, there have been 20 SSCs, spread over 13 African nations; these have been reduced to just three in three countries today.
In past years, the biggest safety problems facing the continent had been certification of air operators, licensing of personnel and airworthiness of aircraft, said Jallow. “Those areas have now been significantly improved and strengthened in most states.”
Today, one of the biggest challenges in Africa is air navigation services – particularly the supervision of such services when provided by a multi-national agency.
“Regulation by individual countries over such an entity is still weak. States are improving, but haven’t been able to coordinate their supervision of multi-national agencies.”
Certification of aerodromes remains another challenge: “Only 23% of all aerodromes in Africa are certified by the local aviation authorities; that doesn’t mean they’re not safe, but there’s an obligation on each state that they certify all international aerodromes within their territories.”
ICAO, the United Nations body that helps to set international standards and recommended practices, is helping African governments get to grips with these problems.
“We encourage countries to come together and have a common supervisory entity at regional level. That provides economies of scale,” said Jallow. Several of these regional safety oversight organisations (RSOOs) have now been created, although they face challenges of sustainability in terms of funding and effectiveness.
ICAO is also assisting African nations build accident investigation capabilities. “It is a requirement that states establish structures to ensure the independence of aircraft accident and serious incident investigation. This is a very challenging area for individual countries and a lot of states are yet to do so.
“We do, however, have a good example in Africa today in the Banjul Accord Group (BAG) of seven countries – Cape Verde, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone – that have come together to create a regional accident investigation agency, BAGAIA, to handle inquiries into crashes or other serious incidents on behalf of its members.
ICAO aims to help states build capacity to effectively oversee and efficiently develop their aviation sectors so as to realise the socio-economic benefits associated with the industry. Jallow says that while ICAO is making tremendous efforts in this area, they must be complemented by high-level commitment from states, and reinforced through partnerships for aviation development throughout the continent.
The latest milestone in that process came in late March 2017, when 200 participants from 48 states and 32 international organisations met at a joint global forum on RSOOs in Ezulwini, Swaziland.
Organised jointly by ICAO and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), it made significant progress on improving the cooperation and efficiency of RSOOs, both in ICAO’s Africa and Indian Ocean region, and globally.
A ministerial-level event, held jointly with the forum, also led to a declaration by 13 ministers on how African states will work to refine their collaborative efforts and improve aviation safety oversight.
Of course, there is no end to the search for safety: “It’s a continuous process that needs continuous improvement,” said Jallow. (africanaerospace, photo: ia)