In the June issue of AeroSafety World, I addressed the twin tragedies that had befallen African aviation earlier that month, with fatal accidents in Accra, Ghana, and, more famously, in Lagos, Nigeria. I said it was important to recognize that, despite those two accidents, progress was being made in aviation safety in Africa. Since then, another important step has been taken.
In July, the ministers of aviation, or their equivalents, and the directors general of civil aviation authorities (CAAs) from 35 African nations met in Abuja, Nigeria, for the African Union Ministerial Conference on Aviation Safety. During the five-day meeting, the delegates heard presentations from a variety of organizations, including Flight Safety Foundation, and discussed and debated a range of topics. But most importantly, the delegates approved the Abuja Declaration, which reaffirms the region’s commitment to aviation safety.
Specifically, in the Abuja Declaration, the region’s aviation ministers promise in part to “accelerate the establishment of, strengthen and maintain civil aviation authorities with full autonomy, powers and independence, sustainable sources of funding and resources to carry out effective safety oversight and regulation of the aviation industry.”
Independent, autonomous CAAs are crucial to safety. In a brief paper presented to the Ministerial Conference, Flight Safety Foundation said: “Across the world, the Foundation has observed that political interference with technical aviation is one of the greatest threats to aviation safety. This applies to highly developed states, as well as the less developed. CAA personnel must be able to act with confidence to enforce international safety standards and develop the states’ aviation industry.”
The Abuja Declaration also endorses the Africa Strategic Improvement Action Plan, which the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other stakeholders pledged in May to support. In addition to independent and sufficiently funded CAAs and effective and transparent safety oversight systems, the plan calls for the completion of IATA Operational Safety Audits by all African carriers; implementation of accident prevention measures focused on runway safety and loss of control; implementation of flight data analysis and implementation of safety management systems by all service providers, according to ICAO.
The Abuja Declaration still must be ratified by the Assembly of the African Union in January, but the bottom line is that the heads of aviation in 35 African countries have committed to making substantial improvements in aviation safety and to working toward a 50 percent reduction in accidents by 2015. That is a significant commitment, but it is achievable if operators and governments in Africa, with support from other stakeholders, work together with a singleness of purpose.