Sunday, July 01, 2007

Africa body to improve air safety

Wreckage at the site of the plane crash site in Abuja, Nigeria

A body to standardise air safety measures across Africa has been inaugurated in Namibia.

The Africa Civil Aviation Agency (ACAA) will be based in the capital, Windhoek, and will train pilots and co-ordinate aviation policy across the continent.

Africa accounts for only 3% of global air traffic, but is responsible for 17% of fatal air crashes.

The agency's director says it will bring Africa's safety standards into line with those in Europe and the US.

Human error

The BBC's Frauke Jensen in Windhoek says most accidents are deemed to be human error, often not caused by a lack of skills but pressure from operators.

Our reporter says the ACAA wants to change the attitudes of aviators, companies and governments, many of whom have little regard for safety and regulations when there is money to be made.

"What we're trying to pull away from the African aviators' way of looking at things, is the culture of 'Nobody's looking at you so you don't have to adhere to the rules'," ACAA head Mwangi waKamau told the BBC.

"What we're trying to develop here is a culture where you yourself feel fully responsible when you're in an aviation situation when you're handling an airport and you're maintaining an aircraft to maintain the safety culture with or without someone looking over your back," he said.

The ACAA will also have five regional bodies based in Libya, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa to serve as networking agencies under its auspices.

A wing and a prayer

One in five fatal accidents happen in Africa. Rescuers workers carry a body at the crash site in Mbanga Pongo, Cameroon

Earlier this month, a helicopter carrying Togolese football fans crashed in Sierra Leone, killing 22 people.

A Kenya Airways Boeing 737 crashed into swampland in Cameroon soon after take-off, killing all 114 passengers in May.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are almost no roads and many people depend on air transport, has one of the worst records.

According to the African Airlines Association, it accounts for well over half of Africa's accidents in the last decade.

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in DR Congo says about 20 airlines operate in the vast country, many using old Antonov cargo planes with passengers sitting on plastic chairs.

Often there are no windows, so it is dark inside, and packed with passengers who spend the journey praying. They thank God and clap for the pilots when they land safely, he says.

Nigeria has also experienced a series of tragic plane crashes leading to some 300 deaths in the last two years.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Africa body to improve air safety