In the May AeroSafety World, we reported on International Air Transport Association (IATA) statistics showing an improved safety picture in Africa. The rate of Western-built hull losses in Africa fell to 3.27 per million flights in 2011 from 7.41 per million in 2010, and the number of accidents for all aircraft types declined from 18 in 2010 to eight last year. Still too many, but a positive move nonetheless. “Good News About Africa,” said the headline.
Fast forward just a few weeks, and last year’s “good news” was pushed aside by two tragedies that occurred in rapid succession. On June 2, a Boeing 727-200 freighter operated by Allied Air ran off the end of the runway after landing at Accra-Kotoka International Airport in Ghana and slammed into a minivan. Twelve people on the ground were killed, including 10 in the minivan, which was being used as a taxi.
One day later, a Dana Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83 with 153 passengers and crew crashed into a residential area near Lagos-Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Nigeria after the pilot declared an emergency during the short flight from Abuja to Lagos. Everyone aboard was killed, as were a number of people on the ground. Video of the smoldering wreckage dominated television news programming for at least 24 hours after the crash.
It’s much too early to know the cause of either accident, but there are some important factors to be considered. First of all, as IATA CEO Tony Tyler said in remarks prepared for delivery at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Beijing, “As the two tragic accidents earlier this month in Africa reminded us, safety is a constant challenge.”
Tyler went on to say that the industry’s safety achievements are not distributed evenly across all regions and that “it is our duty as an industry to ensure that flying is safe everywhere.” We at Flight Safety Foundation are trying to do our part by spending our time and resources in areas of the world where the Foundation is needed the most, and numerous other organizations are taking the same approach. It is incumbent upon the companies and countries with the most expertise and experience to see that their knowledge is spread around the world.
Also important is the recognition that, despite recent events, real progress is being made in Africa in terms of safety, albeit perhaps not uniformly across the continent. Despite the tragedy in Lagos, Nigeria is one of those countries where progress is apparent. Within days of the accident, the Foundation and President and CEO Bill Voss, along with IATA’s Tyler, released a statement in support of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and its director general, Harold Demuren, who recently was named by the International Civil Aviation Organization as chairman of the Regional Aviation Safety Group for Africa.
Of Nigeria’s CAA and Demuren, a member of the Foundation’s Board of Governors, Voss said: “Since 2006, we have seen the creation of an autonomous civil authority that has been immune from political interference in Nigeria. Aggressive steps have been taken to build a capable and competent civil aviation authority.”
Here’s hoping the Nigerian Accident Investigation Bureau can get to the bottom of this month’s tragedy professionally and accurately, that its findings help advance the industry’s safety record and that the country’s CAA is allowed to continue to develop, free from political interference.