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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs