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The poor safety record of several African airlines is to come under the spotlight when SA hosts the world’s largest aviation congress next year.
The International Air Transport Association (Iata) annual meeting and the World Air Transport Congress are to be hosted by SAA at Cape Town’s International Convention Centre next June 9-11 and are expected to focus on the poor safety record in Africa, whose accident rate remains about nine times higher than that in the rest of the world.
Iata statistics on air safety for last year showed an improvement over the previous year, but there have been two serious plane crashes in West Africa in recent weeks.
Earlier this month a Dana Air MD-83 hit a block of flats as it was coming in to land in Lagos, killing 153 people in Nigeria’s worst air disaster in decades.
Ten people died when a Nigerian Boeing 727 cargo jet overshot the runway in Accra, Ghana.
The decision to hold next year’s aviation summit in SA was announced in Beijing yesterday at the end of the Iata annual meeting, which drew about 750 airline industry delegates and about 350 journalists.
SAA chief executive Siza Mzimela said the conference was expected to attract a similar number of delegates and provide a unique opportunity to market SA and Cape Town internationally. It would also provide a forum for debate on the growing role of aviation in world trade, business and tourism.
According to a recent Oxford Economics survey, more than 21 million passengers travel to and from SA every year, along with 240 000 tons of freight, on more than 52 000 flights a year between SA and 77 airports in 51 countries.
Mzimela said she also expected there would be increasing attention on the African continent’s poor aviation safety record, as well as opportunities to expand and improve airport and aviation infrastructure.
Speaking at a briefing in Beijing yesterday, Iata airline safety spokesman Günther Matschnigg said airline safety had improved significantly at an international level and the number of accidents was at the lowest recorded level in several decades – whereas that in Africa was about nine times higher than in the rest of the world.
Based on the number of accidents and losses of aircraft hulls, Europe, North Asia and North America had the best safety records, while Africa’s remained the worst.
For example, regional accident rates in Europe and North Asia were at zero in a million flights. The rate in North America was 0.1, in the Asia-Pacific region 0.25 and in South America 1.28.
The Sub-Saharan Africa accident rate was 3.2 and the North African-Middle Eastern rate was 2.02.
Matschnigg, who visited Joburg last month for an aviation safety summit, said Iata’s African member nations had drawn up a five-point action plan that they will present to the AU.
The plan involved helping African countries develop more robust safety programmes, steps to reduce the number of runway accidents on landing or take-off, improved training for pilots and better and more regular safety audits.
Airline and airport staff would also be encouraged to report even minor cases of ground damage to aircraft, such as trucks bumping against aircraft parked on the runway during loading and refuelling.
“We are asking people to tell us about possible damage rather than hiding it – especially with some of the newer aircraft with hulls that are made of modern composite materials rather than aluminium.”
Matschnigg said that whereas minor damage was easily visible on older aluminium hull planes, it was much more difficult to see scratches and bumps on new aircraft made from composite (high-strength plastic and fibre weave materials). Because of the structure and design of composites, it was even difficult to spot visible signs of tyre marks from handling vehicles bumping against aircraft, he said.