Monitoring major accomplishments and unmet safety challenges within sub-Saharan Africa has become simpler today than in the recent past (ASW, 11/06). Effective global exchanges of safety data, the transparency of initiatives involving the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and detailed reporting by regional aviation safety groups have made this possible, say a number of the organizations with expertise. They typically point to remarkable advances by some states, airlines and airports that demonstrate what is possible. Nevertheless, they still see too many of the broadest initiatives falling behind agreed-upon timetables.
One new monitoring aid is ICAO’s Regional Performance Dashboards, interactive website information displays posted in May at <www.icao.int/safety/pages/regional-targets.aspx> that enable users to cross-reference relevant organizations, see map locations and the scope of safety initiatives, check the status of effective implementation of Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) critical elements by state, and determine sources of funding and other assistance. Information regularly published by assisting organizations also offers insights.
In May, leaders from states that cooperate through the ICAO Regional Aviation Safety Group–Africa–Indian Ocean (RASG-AFI) described their involvement in projects during the AFI Safety Symposium in Dakar, Senegal. In his message to the symposium, Raymond Benjamin, secretary general of ICAO, said, “There are certain positive safety performance results which ICAO has seen in Africa over the last several years, largely as a result of our intensified cooperation. For instance, between 2010 and 2013, the accident rate in Africa has fallen by 45 percent, from 16.8 accidents per million departures to 9.3. Notably, the number of fatal accidents over this same period dropped from three to one per year.”
The wealth of readily available information has helped states take on challenges such as meeting the need to triple current capacity for training the aviation professionals who influence airline safety in Africa, which he called critical to overcoming shortages otherwise projected through 2030. “For Africa, [the] dashboards provide real-time monitoring on the achievements of the Abuja [Declaration safety] targets,1,2 as well as key efficiency performance indicators,” Benjamin said.
“ICAO has been very encouraged by the level of commitment shown up to this point by African states,” he said. “However, continued political will is still required in order to succeed. Your commitment is primarily demonstrated through the establishment and strengthening of autonomous civil aviation authorities [CAAs] with independent regulatory oversight and sustainable sources of funding. … Establishment of … regional safety oversight organizations has posed challenges of sustainability and coordination that need to be addressed.”
Tony Tyler, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — who had said in a 2012 speech in Africa that “everyone knows what needs to be done” — wrote in April 2014, “The Western-built jet hull loss rate improved 55.4 percent between 2012 and 2013, while the region’s accident rate for all aircraft types improved nearly 50 percent (7.45 accidents per million flights, [down] from 14.80 in 2012). … There has been some significant [state safety oversight] progress. But, to be very frank, overall, there has not yet been sufficient urgency in dealing with this fundamental issue. Meeting the  Abuja Declaration’s 2015 commitment will require a major acceleration in the pace of implementation. … As of the end of 2013, only 11 [of 54] African states had achieved 60 percent implementation of ICAO’s safety-related standards and recommended practices.”
In Africa, as in several other parts of the world, ICAO collaborates with organizations such as RASGs and regional safety oversight organizations, says the ICAO Safety Report, 2014 Edition, which focused on scheduled commercial air transport.
“While the RASG-AFI in 2013 had the highest regional accident rate, it also accounted for the lowest percentage of global traffic volume [an estimated 0.7 million departures],” the ICAO report said, counting nine accidents in 2013 for a rate of 12.9 per million departures, which compared with a global rate of 2.8.
“In 2013, the 38th Session of the ICAO Assembly acknowledged that actions taken by ICAO under the [2008 Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa] had begun to demonstrate positive progress in enhancing aviation safety in the continent,” the report said, noting the plan’s add-ons to Abuja targets as of 2013 for air navigation services, airports and ground aids, and the investigation of aircraft accidents and incidents.
“Twenty-eight ICAO plans of action have been developed for states with significant safety concerns and a low level of effective implementation of the critical elements of a safety oversight system with the objective of assisting those states in addressing their serious safety deficiencies in a prioritized manner,” the report said. “Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan and Zambia have addressed their significant safety concerns; Mauritania and Sudan have met the target of 60 percent of effective implementation of the critical elements of a safety oversight system, and significant improvements were also noted by the [USOAP] in Benin and Madagascar.”
Front Line Voices
Several symposium presenters provided candid summaries of their work. External and internal resources provide windows of opportunity for states to fully implement ICAO’s eight critical elements of aviation safety oversight, but the local challenges remain complex, said Kwame Mamphey, director general, Ghana CAA (ASW, 4/09).
Ghana CAA had to weigh the pros and cons of adopting the different model regulations of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or ICAO, or a mixture of them, or drafting entirely new regulations patterned after the models, he said. A related challenge was how to present draft regulations for a vote in parliament and later amend them, and to identify and file differences with ICAO standards and recommendations.
For one element — providing technical guidance material to the industry — the CAA had difficulty developing the material. Its aviation safety inspectors found editing tasks time consuming because they had no assistance, the option of obtaining guidance material from consultants proved to be very expensive, and either too few consultants were available or they failed to customize material to fit the requirements in Ghana, he said.
Gen. Yousif Ibrahim Ahmed, deputy director general, Sudan CAA, described how his country resolved a significant safety concern identified in December 2011 by an ICAO USOAP assessment team. At issue was air operator certification.
“By the time the preliminary report was received, the [CAA] had already reorganized its aviation safety system by establishing the Standards and Safety Management Office within the Office of the Director General to be responsible for all safety-related activities, to work to resolve the [significant safety concern] as a priority and also to ensure continuity and sustainability in safety oversight,” Ahmed said.
By mid-January 2012, ICAO provided feedback to the CAA’s detailed corrective action plan, and implementation began. Teams of CAA technical experts, industry experts within Sudan and four international consultants were trained to conduct recertification of air operators using ICAO recommended practices. Five holders of Sudanese air operator certificates (AOCs) then were asked to submit new documentation by the end of January 2012, and twice-weekly CAA meetings were held to oversee the recertification process.
“The plan was to complete the certification of the five air operators by 30 April or revoke their permit for international operation if not successful,” Ahmed said. “However, at the end of the process, only four of the five air operators were recertified, and the AOC of the fifth air operator was suspended. … Today, two years down the line, some of the operators certified at the time are no [longer] operating, as they could not survive the stringent process of surveillance and [ensure] the resources required to maintain an acceptable level of operations and maintenance control. … Unlike the previous years when there were three to four accidents or serious incidents a year, Sudan has experienced no accident or serious incident over the last two years.”
Gabriel Lesa, acting director, Department of Civil Aviation of Zambia, recounted how a significant safety concern was addressed after an ICAO USOAP inspection in early 2009. “The significant safety concern was based on Zambia’s failure to comply with the [ICAO] requirements and processes for the five-phase air operator certification,” he said. “Zambia’s experience with the [significant safety concern resolution] has been immense. It was both a trigger to immediate action on issues of safety concern and has also been a serious learning curve and a turning point on how things are done henceforth.”
Behind the scenes, however, the resolution was considered complex and expensive. The steps included obtaining ICAO’s technical assistance on the corrective action plan, obtaining African Civil Aviation Commission assistance by establishing CAA membership in the Africa and Indian Ocean Cooperative Inspectorate System, hiring contract consultants from Denmark and Germany, and securing other technical support from ICAO’s East and Southern African Office regional office safety teams. The significant safety concern was cleared during a December 2012 follow-up visit by the ICAO Coordinated Validation Mission.
Regional Group Efforts
ICAO this year singled out two regional aviation safety groups as examples of collaborative recent projects to emulate. The Banjul Accord Group Aviation Safety Oversight Organization — teaming specialists from Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone — formed a cost-effective core group of aviation safety inspectors who can share their expertise among states, train national inspectors, harmonize regulations and procedures, and coordinate external technical assistance programs to resolve safety oversight deficiencies and address new issues.
Assistance from the U.S. Safe Skies for Africa program and EASA’s Support to the Improvement of Aviation Safety in Africa program in 2013 provided training to 258 aviation professionals from these states in safety management systems (SMS), introduced the Inspector Training System for Air Navigation Services database, and assisted in risk management and how to oversee operations specifications under AOCs. The Banjul Accord Group organization also has been a central resource providing database tools for aviation safety inspector training and personnel qualification records, foreign aircraft safety assessment and work-tracking software.
The other regional aviation safety group cited — the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, teaming specialists from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda — has focused on upgrading safety inspection processes and harmonizing civil aviation regulations and technical guidance on flight safety, SMS, aviation security, airports and air navigation services.
ICAO noted this agency’s implementation throughout the East African Community of EASA’s Safety Oversight Facilitated Integration Application, a tool for operator/aircraft certification, licensing and inspection; exchange of technical experts; a common licensing examination system for aviation professionals; and the new Centre for Aviation Medicine, based temporarily in Entebbe, Uganda, with plans for a permanent facility in Nairobi, Kenya.
A report summarizing IATA’s interpretation of key safety issues affecting sub-Saharan Africa describes the issue of major advances at the levels of states and operators but slow progress on the regional level.3
“The region continues to have the weakest safety performance in the world by a considerable margin,” the report said. Airlines based in the AFI region that are on the registry of the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) program, however, had no accidents in 2012 or 2013. In that context, IATA in 2013 joined ICAO and other organizations and companies in pursuing “world-class safety performance by the end of 2015” by addressing deficiencies through the Africa Strategic Improvement Action Plan.
As in previous initiatives, the plan reemphasizes the urgency of creating independent CAAs that have sufficient resources to perform effective oversight. IATA also says continued replacement of legacy fleets with new aircraft providing advanced operational capabilities will have a strong positive influence on flight operations risk management within many airlines.
The action plan prioritizes implementing effective and transparent regulatory oversight systems in states, completing IOSA by all African airlines, implementing runway safety measures, training pilots to reduce risk of loss of control–in flight, providing routine flight data analysis, certifying all international airports, and implementing SMS for states and service providers.
At the symposium, Kevin Hiatt, IATA’s senior vice president, flight operations, said that IOSA-registered airlines in AFI — counting all Eastern-built and Western-built large commercial jets and turboprops — had about one-fourth the hull-loss accident rate of non-IOSA–registered airlines in the 2009–2013 period. This registry as of mid-August listed Aero Contractors Company of Nigeria, Air Botswana, Air Burkina, Air Madagascar, Air Mauritius, Air Namibia, Air Seychelles, Air Uganda (Meridiana Africa Airlines), Air Zimbabwe, ALS, Arik Air, Comair, DHL Aviation EEMEA, Equaflight Service, Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise, Go, Interair South Africa, Kenya Airways, LAM Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique, Precision Air Services, SA Airlink, SAFAIR Operations, South African Airways, South African Express Airways, Sudan Airways Co., TAAG Angola Airlines, TACV Cabo Verde Airlines and Trans Air Congo. Currently, these airlines collectively have a hull-loss accident rate about seven times better than non-IOSA operators in the region, according to IATA.
Counting all Eastern-built and Western-built jet and turboprop accidents, sub-Saharan Africa experienced 7.45 hull-loss accidents per million sectors in 2013, which compared to 13.53 for the entire 2009–2013 period, the report said. The region was the site of 9 percent of 81 accidents that IATA counted in 2013, which compared with 14 percent of 432 accidents and 23 percent of 94 fatal accidents for the 2009–2013 period.
Among accident types tracked by the association’s analysts, sub-Saharan Africa’s 2013 data — compared with data for the 2009–2013 period — included more than twice the rate of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents, about half the rate of LOC-I accidents, no midair collisions, about one-fourth the rate of runway excursion accidents, about twice the rate of in-flight damage accidents, and more than twice the rate of tail-strike accidents.
World Bank Insights
Political will at top government levels generally sets the pace of sub-Saharan African states’ and operators’ risk–mitigation initiatives, said Charles Schlumberger, lead air transport specialist, Transport and Information/Communication Technologies Department, The World Bank Group. Assessing such initiatives today comes down to distinguishing the outcomes — i.e., the most significant results — from the outputs, he told AeroSafety World in October (see “World Bank Project Examples” below).
“The output is that ‘we put in infrastructure’ or ‘we did training of 500 air safety inspectors and CAA personnel,’” Schlumberger said, referring to steps within initiatives. “We need to be very careful not to be content with an output. An outcome is achieved if the country moves to a [U.S.] Federal Aviation Administration International Aviation Safety Assessments Category 1 rating, for instance, or has a significant improvement in its ICAO USOAP safety audit. We need to look at the outcome — not the output.” Cape Verde and Nigeria, for example, are two of only three states worldwide during his 12-year tenure to gain the Category 1 rating with World Bank influence, resources and technical support, he said.
“Political will of a country depends on only one thing — that at the top, the president or prime minister has the political sensitivity and will to have a good aviation safety oversight and enforcement scheme. If the top leader isn’t interested in safety oversight of the aviation sector, in policing the aviation sector, there is nothing we can do,” Schlumberger said. Sometimes, however, the global aviation safety community’s greatest challenge is influencing the perspective of leaders who rank mitigating airline accidents and fatalities as less pressing than those of other transportation modes and/or other national problems.
Organizations that offer assistance also encounter some officials who welcome opportunities to take study tours and hold conventions but do not follow through with what Schlumberger described as “genuine personal conviction that safety is important.” He added, “They see this as a business … as a possibility to raise funds for the government apparatus and the civil aviation authority, but they don’t see it as an opportunity to improve safety.”
Characterizing state and regional levels of safety in terms of outcomes involves restraint to avoid overstating the significance of changes in accident data over brief periods of time, he said. “We do not have enough data to produce statistics that are really relevant,” Schlumberger said. “With so few accidents even in Africa, which has statistically a far higher rate than Europe and the United States, it is very hard to say, ‘Well, we didn’t have an accident in Nigeria for three years, which means we have done something right.’ The correlation is not there.” Aviation safety data are unlike his pedestrian-fatality data for African road projects, for example, which can be measured and analyzed against closely linked mitigations such as the introduction of pedestrian bridges.
Schlumberger instead recommends looking at a wide array of outcomes, beginning with state/aircraft operator safety ratings, how many foreign airliners are flying in the state and signs of increased financial facilitation for African airlines to buy and finance new aircraft, he said. “Sometimes we don’t know the outcome. If we really search, it could be that now British Airways flights can land at night or that there are far fewer diversions.”
He also sees positive contributions of improved infrastructure to African airline flight crews’ operational realities. For example, advanced instrument approach procedures reduce these pilots’ risk exposure to conducting nonprecision instrument approaches, which may involve pressures to violate minimum descent altitudes out of concern about disciplinary repercussions or even termination of employment — although this problem occurs worldwide, he said. “In improving the infrastructure, you directly improve safety because, with the poor instrument landing systems in many emerging countries, the pilots just want to get in, to try to descend below [minimum descent altitude or decision height/altitude] an extra 100 ft, and then they crash,” Schlumberger said. “So there is a very clear correlation.”
- Abuja safety targets were endorsed as part of the Abuja Declaration by the Ministerial Meeting on Aviation Safety and Security of the African Union in July 2012, and endorsed at the Assembly of the African Union in January 2013.
- IATA. Safety Report 2013: 50th Edition, April 2014.
World Bank Project Examples
States in sub-Saharan Africa have the world’s largest number of projects under way among The World Bank Group’s programs that, in one small aspect, develop infrastructure and institutional capacity to manage risk in commercial air transport.1 The bank group includes in the term infrastructure physical assets plus laws/regulations and state safety oversight. Ongoing commitments as of early 2014 included projects in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
“The focus of these projects is primarily on safety, infrastructure rehabilitation, institutional strengthening and capacity building,” said a 2013 activity report, referring to the broad-scale transportation objectives. Project completions were reported — using investments by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Finance Corp. (IFC), IFC Advisory Services and International Development Association — in Benin, Cameroon, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Various phases of the West and Central Africa Air Transport Safety and Security Project, begun in fiscal years 2006–2009, aimed to improve by 2013–2014 the compliance level of civil aviation authorities (CAAs) with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety oversight standards in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal, the report said. “Overall positive developments” were cited along with “moderately unsatisfactory progress ratings for some of the states” under criteria weighted heavily toward ICAO audits of the states.
“The most notable achievement of the whole program was Nigeria’s reception of a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration International Aviation Safety Assessments (IASA) Category 1 rating in August 2010. … As a result, Nigeria’s registered carriers, such as Arik Air, can now offer direct flights to the [United States] for the first time in nearly 30 years,” the report said.
Another example of a locally positive result was Burkina Faso’s readiness to prepare in early 2014 for an IASA audit after significant improvements to Ouagadougou International Airport and its establishment of a new autonomous civil aviation authority, the Agence Nationale de l’Aviation Civile.
In Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea and Mali, local advances included “robust training for the CAA and airport staff … and technical staff’s skills in safety and security oversight have dras- tically improved,” the report said. The bank group’s aviation safety–focused grants to the Democratic Republic of Congo enabled the national airports authority, the Regie des Voies Aeriennes, to upgrade air-ground communication, to add air traffic surveillance equipment based on automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast technology and to equip Kinshasa/N’Djili International Airport with a new instrument approach system combining a category II instrument landing system (ILS), very high frequency omnidirectional range station and distance measuring equipment. “Project indicators show that a significant reduction in average annual number of air traffic system … incidents related to failed communications has been achieved,” the report said.
The aviation component of a 10-year project in Sierra Leone concluded in 2013 with the final stages of rehabilitation of Freetown International Airport, including installation of navigation equipment in the control tower, enhancement of airport management capabilities and safety training of airport employees. “This included, among other things, the rehabilitation and strengthening of the runway, with upgrading of turning loops and taxiway entrances to safely accommodate modern aircraft. Through the project, the government has procured and installed power generators, an [ILS] and an air/ground communications system,” the report said.
- The World Bank Group. Air Transport Annual Report 2013. March 2014.