Africa's airlines face safety shake-up
 

   

Africa has seen a spate of deadly air crashes

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Africa’s civil aviation industry is facing a continent-wide safety shake-up in a bid to remove what one official has called the "flying coffins" from its skies.

Tshepo Peege, the president of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) said a recent spate of deadly accidents had shown it was time to get tough.

 

"We can no longer allow the situation to continue where Africa's skies are known as the most dangerous in the world," he told a press conference in Pretoria this week.

 

Among measures AFCAC planned to take, he said, would be a naming and shaming of countries and airlines where air safety is a concern, as well as grounding of unsafe aircraft and operators.

 

According to the Aviation Safety Network, a group which monitors aviation incidents worldwide, of the 35 fatal air accidents in 2005, 13 occurred in Africa.

 

Overall, the group says, while Africa accounts for just 4% of global air passenger traffic, it accounts for 27% of all fatal air crashes.

 

In the space of just one month last year, Nigeria alone suffered two fatal air crashes leaving more than 200 people dead.

 

Enforcement

 

Those crashes helped spark AFCAC's new safety crackdown.

 

Peege said that a meeting of the African Union scheduled for June would urge African transport ministers to take a strong stand on enforcing air safety.

 

He said there would be no leeway for governments seeking shortcuts to obtain air operations certificates – needed for aircraft to fly and land at certain airports - for their own airlines.

 

"Ultimately we will have the power to ground aircraft if they and those who operate them do not meet safety regulations," Peege said.

 

Among the biggest offenders in terms of equipment he said were Russian-built aircraft, which were involved in 11 out of 13 fatal accidents on the continent last year.

 

An AFCAC survey, Peege said, had found that some Soviet-era aircraft flying in Africa "had not seen the inside of a hangar for two or three years."

 

The time had come, he said, to end the perception "that people leave a destination as passengers and come back as cargo".

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Partnering For Safe Growth In Africa

Commercial aviation in sub-Saharan Africa is growing at a double-digit annual pace and is headed for some major changes. The immediate challenge is safety. The worst recent safety records have been compiled by airlines flying Russian equipment, which can be grounded. But African carriers flying Western-built jets have averaged two fatal accidents per million flights in the past 10 years, well in excess of the rates for major international airlines.

Some African carriers are at, near or within reach of international safety standards. Egyptair is registered with the International Air Transport Association's Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) program, while South African Airways and Kenya Airways are expected to pass IOSA scrutiny soon. But many airlines will be mistrusted by both passengers and potential airline partners until uniform standards are enforced.

"All African airlines are tarred by the same brush, simply because they are African," said Nic Packwood, chairman of Wake Quality Assurance. "Although quite a few of them are safe, they do not get much business."

Much of Africa is desperately poor, and some nations are wracked by political instability or outright civil war. Because of this, IATA developed a special program called the Partnership for Safety (PFS) to apply IOSA to sub-Saharan Africa, Eritrea and Sudan.

"Africa has always had a very high rate of accidents," said James Andrianalisoa, former CEO of Air Madagascar, and now IATA's African project manager for PFS. "When IOSA was launched, special attention and assistance was given to the least-advantaged airlines in developing African nations."

Training Workshops

PFS training workshops have been conducted, in Nairobi, Johannesburg, Dakar, Lagos and Libreville by Wake QA under the guidance, and with funding, from IATA.

Workshop participants spent five days reviewing the 750 IOSA standards, including more than 100 standards for best-practice maintenance. The workshops are like initial meetings IOSA auditors hold with airlines, except done in much greater detail.

PFS workshops are free for airline attendees, although IATA selected participating airlines most likely to follow through on safety. Managers from about two dozen carriers attended the workshops, along with many officials from civil aviation authorities.

"During the workshops, participants discovered exactly the fundamentals of quality management in airlines," Andrianalisoa said. "IOSA is not just a list of standards, but a major change in the way airlines manage quality and safety. Participants said they are much more comfortable with how safety is placed in the whole airline environment."

The next steps include "gap analyses" of specific deficiencies at the carriers. In late November, the first gap analysis was conducted at South Africa's Comair. Eleven more of these analyses are scheduled for completion shortly. For example, IOSA auditors Morten Beyer & Agnew expect to complete gap analyses of Air Madagascar and Air Namibia by late January.

"The gap analysis is a pre-audit, conducted by an IOSA audit organization,"

Andrianalisoa explained. "It shows the actual situation at an airline - strengths and weaknesses." The gap analysis outlines specific tasks necessary for an airline to pass an IOSA audit. "After gap analyses, we will know the problems, and we can build up an action plan," said Packwood.

After flight operations, maintenance contains the most detailed checklist in an IOSA audit. Audits of small, non-IATA airlines reveal that up to 25 percent of the problems often are in maintenance. Because of the availability of airframe and engine MRO facilities, the challenges in Africa likely are to be found in managing maintenance, not in the availability of maintenance infrastructure.

The next step is meeting with top management at selected African airlines to review results. "Change is not going to happen if we just train quality assurance managers, flight officers, managers and technical specialists,"

Andrianalisoa said. "We have to get top airline management committed to implement these very stringent standards."

Moving Forward

How many airlines will have the commitment and ability to proceed? Packwood speculates that at least half of the first dozen airlines subjected to gap analyses will go forward to IOSA audits. Others may hang back, due to constrained finances, inadequate airports or infrastructure, which only governments can fix, or because their alliance partners are not yet pushing hard enough for IOSA. But once half a dozen carriers make it and reap the rewards of better traffic and lower insurance premiums, Packwood hopes for a stampede toward broader participation.

"We are very committed to this program," Andrianalisoa emphasized. "We want to get a number of airlines registered with IOSA as soon as possible."

There is much work to be done, and there will be significant costs.

Andrianalisoa expects that the cost of getting even the first wave of African carriers registered with IOSA probably will require additional funding, beyond the $3 million initially budgeted for PFS.

African airlines will have to pay for the full IOSA audit, which usually costs between $40,000 and $60,000. By far the major expense is getting ready for the audit and then passing it. But at least after the gap analyses, "there will be light at the end of the tunnel," Packwood predicted. "I hope IATA stays the course."

Moreover, once gap analyses clarify challenges, some fixes may not require major expenditures. "For example, if a problem has been dealt with by an airline's partner, they can pick up the phone and ask the partner what solution was used," Packwood explained.

The Wake chief thinks PFS may require training courses in specific subjects for multiple airlines. He would also like to find ways to make IOSA more economical for Africans.

It costs about $2,500 to train an experienced airline specialist as an auditor, a sum that is easily recouped by a week of work in developed countries. But African wage rates are much lower. African carriers can ill afford paying Western salaries plus travel expenses from Europe. Packwood hopes that African auditors can be trained and deployed less expensively.

This article appeared in Overhaul & Maintenance's January 2006 issue.

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