News / Africa

Despite Fixes, W. African Air Travel Still Risky

People use mobile phones to photograph wreckage of Dana Air flight 9J-922, Lagos, Nigeria, June 3, 2012.
People use mobile phones to photograph wreckage of Dana Air flight 9J-922, Lagos, Nigeria, June 3, 2012.
Anne Look
DAKAR - The crew of Dana Air flight 9J-922 from Abuja to Lagos sent out a mayday call on June 3. There was engine trouble, and minutes later the plane crashed into a crowded Lagos neighborhood, killing all 153 passengers and more on the ground.

The fourth plane crash to kill more than 100 people in Nigeria in the past decade, it occurred less than 24 hours after a Nigerian cargo plane missed the runway at Ghana's Kotoka International Airport and crashed into a bus, killing ten.

Despite two deadly crashes, African aviation experts say air travel in some parts of the continent is getting safer, although aviation regulation and oversight remain a key challenge for most sub-Saharan African countries.

The most dangerous places to board

The U.N.-affiliated International Civil Aviation Organization says Africa had the fewest scheduled commercial flights between 2001 and 2010, but an accident rate that was four to five times that of other continents.

When disaster strikes, observers often look to factors like inclement weather, electricity cuts, decrepit infrastructure, old aircraft, and pilot error, but aviation experts say the root problem lies with the poor policing of African commercial aviation.

They also say West and Central Africa are particularly dangerous places to board a commercial flight.

"Frequently, the authorities that are charged with overseeing aviation have very little authority," says William Voss, president of the Washington-based Flight Safety Foundation. "They have inadequate staffing, they are overridden frequently from political levels, and there are a lot of issues with political will. You will have politically influential operators appealing to higher levels of government, and that is the sort of thing that was corrected in Nigeria."

Voss, who has worked extensively in West Africa, echoes fellow aviation experts who have described Nigeria as a "model of reform" since 2006, when the country reached a turning point. Following a series of crashes over a two-year period - including one in Port Harcourt that killed 107 people, many of them schoolchildren - the country revamped infrastructure and passed a civil-aviation law that created a relatively autonomous safety regulator.

Lagos-based Arik Air and Air Nigeria have since become members of the prestigious International Air Transport Association (IATA), which requires passing rigorous international safety audits, and in 2010 the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration awarded Nigeria category-1 standing, its top safety rating that allows domestic carriers to fly to the United States.

Such qualifications are essential for carriers that want to join the lucrative international market, and experts say the economic pressure has prompted reform in other African countries.

According to Tom Kok, director of the London-based AviAssist Foundation, Nigeria is now one of 10 African nations that rate higher than the global minimum standards for aviation safety.

"This unfortunate accident in Nigeria may lead to the simple assumption that things are not well-organized in Nigeria," he says. "But it is very important to remember that in countries with stellar aviation-safety records, like Australia or Canada or the United States, accidents unfortunately still happen."

In 2011, he adds, Africa saw a record-low in plane accidents.

Flying below the regulatory radar

But the problem is far from solved: In countries where political agendas are topped by healthcare and education concerns, aviation safety is often a low priority, and the EU blacklist of nations deemed too unsafe to operate Europe-bound flights remains dominated by African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin and Angola.

And even in Nigeria, which has seen a proliferation of regional and domestic carriers in recent years, the pressure to turn a profit in an increasingly crowded marketplace compels some companies to cut corners. Dana Air, for example, which was launched by a pharmaceutical company in 2008, purchased the 22-year-old Boeing MD-83 involved in Sunday's crash from an American airline.

It is not uncommon for African airlines to purchase second-hand aircraft from more developed nations, and experts have said that even old planes, if properly maintained, can safely operate almost indefinitely. But lax, inadequate or financially under-resourced government regulation means that some carriers do not follow the kind of standard safety procedures that would require employees to report negligence and malfunctions, and government regulators often cannot afford to keep enough qualified inspectors to ensure compliance.

Unfortunately, experts say, a commitment to aviation safety tends to follow tragedy, rather than precede it.

Although an ongoing investigation has yet to determine exactly what caused flight 9J-922 to crash, the MD-83 model is currently being phased out of service in the United States due to poor fuel efficiency.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid