African governments must take lead in improving the continent’s air safety

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for political leadership in Africa in the campaign to improve the continent’s air transport safety record, which is by far the worst in the world today.

“I do not see political leadership saying ‘this is important– it’s a battle we have to win’,” IATA Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said to reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday. “Profit is important. But the number one priority for aviation is safety. Africa must improve its safety record.”
IATA measures aviation safety in hull losses (that is, accidents in which an aircraft is destroyed outright or damaged beyond economical repair) per million flights.

“The numbers tell a difficult story, an unhappy story,” he stated. The global average last year was 0,61 hull losses per million flights. The figure for Africa was 7,41 hull losses per million flights – some 12 times greater than the global figure. The next worst region was Latin America, with 1,7 hull losses, while Asia/Pacific had 0,8, North America 0,1 and Russia 0,0 (zero hull losses in 2010).

Safety standards vary dramatically across the continent, with IATA’s African member airlines having passed the stringent IATA Operational Safety Audits (IOSA – now a requirement for all members of the association) and having excellent safety records. A number of African countries, including (but not only) Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, have first class aviation safety in general.

On the other hand, some 16 to 18 (the number varies) African countries are on the European Union (EU) blacklist, which bans their airlines from flying in EU airspace.

Other regions have had air safety issues as well. However, these have benefitted from decisive political leadership, asking for assistance from, and implementing the recommendations of, IATA. “In 2003/2004, China was a big problem regarding safety. In two years we solved it,” cited Bisignani. “In 2005/2006 we had a problem in Russia. We solved it.”

“Aviation must be safe everywhere. Africa cannot be the exception,” he asserted. “I urge South Africa to take a leadership role in the region and promote IOSA as a tool for governments to use to supplement their safety oversight and improve the region’s performance.”
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