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

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

Video Better Protective Suit Sought for Ebola Caregivers

Current suit is uncomfortable, requires too many steps for removal, increasing chance of deadly contact with virus More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week 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.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid