Worried by aviation safety in Africa, the European Union has continued to expand its list of African airlines that are not permitted to operate into its airspace.
The new list has 284 airlines from 24 countries worldwide currently barred from flying into Europe. Out of the 24 countries worldwide with airlines on the banned list, 17 of them or over 70 per cent are from Africa. This means that about a third of all African countries are on the banned list.
Top on the list in Africa is Democratic Republic of Congo with 36 carriers, while Sudan has 14 and Mozambique and Angola had 13 each. Others are Sao Tome and Principe 10, Benin Republic 8, Gabon 7, Sierra Leone 7, Republic of Congo 5, Ghana 1, Rwanda 1, Djibouti 1, Zambia 1, and Mauritania1.
African continent is important not only to the United States and Europe but to other continents’ economic, strategic and foreign policy interests and efforts have been made to improve commerce and connectivity to benefit the regions.
However, the continent has the highest aviation accident rate in the world, which has hindered progress. Recognising the importance of improving aviation safety in Africa, the U.S. and the international aviation community have worked to improve aviation safety in Africa.
As in other regions in the global aviation industry, safety is the priority and a major concern in Africa’s air transport industry given its impact on the industry and national economies. Owing to higher rate of safety occurrences in Africa, safety on the continent has been given greater attention by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and safety partners such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
This safety concern has continually forced the European Union to take a critical appraisal of the operations of airlines in the continent and to ascertain their level of compliance to aviation safety by coming up periodically with a list known as the ‘blacklist’.
The EU blacklist has stirred a fresh round of condemnation as Africa’s aviation experts accused Europe of clandestinely putting more African airlines in the infamous list to expand their own operations in the region.
Participants drawn from airlines around the continent, including 33 Ministers of Transport in the continent and other aviation stakeholders at the just-ended African Ministerial conference on Aviation Safety in Abuja, said that the idea to have many African airlines on the infamous list was both political and one based on economic consideration.
The first version of the EU blacklist was published in 2006, on the legal basis of the Regulation NO. 474/2006 of the European Commission, issued on March 22 of that year. This current version of the list was drawn on April 3, 2012. The list has been regularly updated since then; more countries are being added to the list.
Africa had the world’s worst safety record in 2010, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which measures airline safety in hull losses- accidents that involve an aircraft being destroyed or damaged beyond economical repair – per million flights. Against a global average of 0.61 hull losses per million flights in 2010 – the lowest accident rate to-date – the figure in Africa was 7.41 hull losses per million flights -12 times greater. Africa’s record was still in better shape compared to 2009, with 9.94 hull losses.
But Africa has made good progress in some countries, including Ethiopia, South Africa and Kenya, which have airlines with high safety standards, including Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and South Africa Airways. These airlines have overcome key challenges facing Africa’s airline industry, including poor airport infrastructure and bad governance.
Of the African airlines on the EU banned list, less than half a dozen were either flying to Europe or intended to do so. Those few that did so were largely niche players principally serving ethnic traffic. These include world-class carriers Air Madagascar and LAM Mozambique Airlines.
The two airlines have excellent safety record which few airlines worldwide can boast of. The airlines are IOSA compliant and adopt industry best practices in safety, security and quality. Statistics from the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) show that these carriers have never had any serious accidents in the last 25 years.
In contrast, some of the major European airlines can make no such claim. For example, according to FSF, Air France has had 23 major crashes (involving substantial damage to aircraft, serious or fatal injuries) since 1990, three of them with fatalities and a total of 348 deaths.
These airlines, according to the Secretary General of African Airlines Association (AFRAA), Elijah Chingosho had worked hard and invested significant resources to attain industry best practices on safety which he explained enabled them to attain IATA safety audit certification and recertification over the years.
“It is very disheartening to note that if indeed the reasons for putting an airline or a country on the banned list are to do with safety, for example, a country having international airports with inadequate search and rescue services, no proper security fencing, inadequate fire -fighting services or untrained fire fighters, then why do EU carriers fly to those airports?” he stated.
Surely, if a country or destination is unsafe for African airlines, it is also unsafe for EU carriers. Instead, what is witnessed is that when local airlines are barred, EU carriers increase frequencies to that destination to take over the market lost by the banned airline.