Improving Aviation Safety in Africa

BySebina Muwanga

Improving Aviation Safety in Africa

safetyOn 16 June 2016, the European Commission seven-year-ban on all Zambian registered carriers into European Union (EU) airspace was lifted. This ban was imposed following several findings, and a significant safety concern in the air operator certification process, revealed through an ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) audit on the Zambian civil aviation sector.

The European Commission, under Regulation (EC) No. 2111/2005, has powers to ban operators registered in particular states, that fail to meet international safety and regulatory oversight standards, from entering the airspace of all EU member states. Non EU members like Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland would not grant landing permission either, because they are committed to EU aviation safety standards, and further, inbound flights into their territories have to transit through airspace controlled by other EU member states.

Zambia was finally cleared after taking corrective action over a seven year period, which addressed the findings and significant safety concern.

Why should Zambia- with more than half of its population living below the poverty line- invest in aviation safety and regulatory oversight, to match the standards of a developed EU member state like Germany? According to the July 2016 World Bank development indicators database, the total nominal GDP of Zambia is 22 billion U.S dollars, while that of Germany is 3.3 trillion U.S dollars.

Article 37 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation mandates all contracting states to ensure uniformity in regulations, standards, procedures and organization in relation to aircraft, personnel, airways and auxiliary services. This implies that standards should be the same in all contracting states, regardless of level of economic development. Zambia, being a contracting state, is bound by the provisions of article 37.

Regulators, service providers, and airport operators have to comply with the same international minimum requirements regardless of flight frequency, cargo or passenger statistics. Countries with a small aviation industry and ultimately, less resources, always find difficulty complying with the requirements of Article 37.

Regional integration is the best option for contracting states without adequate resources to satisfy the requirements of Article 37 above.

Under Article 77, states may come together, pool resources and form regional integration projects or joint operating organizations. This can be achieved by setting up common infrastructure like:

  • Training academies; like Euro Control, which provides air traffic control and air traffic management training for EU member states. Before breakup of the East African Community in 1977, EACAA (East African Civil Aviation Academy) provided training for pilots, instructors, maintenance engineers and flight operations officers for all East African states.
  • Airlines; like Scandinavian Airlines, which is owned by Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Air Afrique was partly owned by Air France and Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. East African Airlines was owned by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
  • Regional safety oversight organizations; like ACSA (Central American Agency for Aviation Safety), EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency), EAC CASSOA (East African Community Civil Aviation Safety, Security and Oversight Agency) established in 2007 under the revived East African Community.
  • Air Navigation Service Providers; like Euro Control which provides air navigation services to Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands and North West Germany through its Maastricht upper area control center.

Common infrastructure provides an excellent framework for pooling of technical expertise and cost sharing on regional projects like aviation safety oversight organizations. For example, EAC CASSOA hosts the East African civil aviation personnel licensing examination databank. This ensures uniformity in the region as all personnel (pilots, air traffic controllers, instructors, flight operations officers, cabin crew and maintenance technicians) are examined at the same standard prior to licensing.

All East Africa Community states have adopted aviation regulations, technical guidance materials, forms and checklists drafted by EAC CASSOA. Enforcement is left to the national civil aviation authorities.

CASSOA periodically dispatches technical teams to inspect facilities in EAC states, to advise on how the same can be improved and bring them in line with ICAO standards and recommended practices. Burundi, the smallest East African state is a recent beneficiary. In March 2016, Burundi requested, and CASSOA sent a team of experts to evaluate and advise on rehabilitation of aerodrome movement areas, and erection of a modern control tower at Bujumbura international airport. CASSOA undertook to assist Burundi by supervising the project up to completion, train technical staff at Bujumbura airport and equip them with the necessary skills for future construction projects at the airport. Burundi could not have achieved this on its own due to lack of resources and expertise.

In Europe, EASA sets standards for EU members, and also for airlines of non EU members that fly into the EU.

Common infrastructure ensures harmonization of regulations, policies, technical procedures and standards for the benefit and safety of all countries in the regional integration project.

The updated EU list as of 16 June 2016 is dominated by African states namely; Angola, Benin, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Republic of Gabon, Liberia, Libya, Republic of Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, and Republic of the Sudan. The EU has totally banned or imposed operational restrictions on airlines registered in these states. The irony is that most of them are located in regions, or share borders with states, which meet international safety and regulatory oversight standards, and whose carriers fly into the EU. Possible assistance for the listed states, is a border crossing away.

Aviation is a small industry in Africa, is expensive and ICAO standards will always haunt many African states. Regional integration is the best way to ensure compliance with the requirements of article 37. None of the East African states is on the EU list, thanks in part, to the EAC CASSOA.

This article was earlier published in eTurbonews.

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About the Author

Sebina Muwanga contributor

Sebina is an Air Transport Regulation consultant based in Kampala, Uganda. He is passionate about aviation law and safety regulations. T:@sebina_muwanga, E: