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Is aviation in Africa really unsafe?

African Aviation Regional issues that affect the numerous pilots who work in this area of the world.

Is aviation in Africa really unsafe?

Old 4th Jun 2011, 02:02
  #1 (permalink)  
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Is aviation in Africa really unsafe?

Though, a simple question this seems. I am indeed expecting very complex and conflicting answers. This question has the penchant for spin-offs; like

Are all the 54 nations and territories within the AFI region unsafe?

Is it a case of a hand with a couple of soiled fingers?

What are the real causes and the practical solutions to this 'safety question?

What will be the first two steps towards achieving better safety standards in this region as a unit?

Please feel free to chip in a two cents worth, we just might break this jinx!

Last edited by DRPAM007; 4th Jun 2011 at 02:21. Reason: Concision
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 06:21
  #2 (permalink)  
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I'm flying in Africa for a long time now, atleast its safe in Tanzania...
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 06:43
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My experience of African aviation is limited (but I do have some!), so I am sure there are others who are better qualified to answer but here's my two cents anyway!

Acting in their favour:
- Some very good stick and rudder pilots.
- A genuine commitment and passion from most in the aviation sector.

Acting against African aviation safety:
- Old aircraft.
- A relatively cavalier (or even cowboy) attitude of some operators. This is fostered by the African spirit of adventure and left unchecked by some authorities. Many authorities have realized this and are now playing catchup on their own limited resources.
- Old aircraft.
- Old equipment in general. For example not many navaids or approach aids. Many not maintained to the standards of the developed world.
- Inadequate supply of well trained people leading to many 200 hr people flying with relatively little supervision. The same goes for ATC and engineers.
- The geographic problems imposed by Africa. It's so vast and spread out that if anything happens help is so far away.
- The meteorological problems. In the developed world you're surprised if you can't get a TAF / METAR for where you're going. In Africa it's a luxury. Add to that the extreme weather which can build very quickly and you're in trouble.

So... is aviation in Africa really unsafe? Statistically you're more likely to die in a plane in Africa than in Europe or America. But you're also more likely to die in a car. Does that make driving unsafe? It's a question of how much risk you're willing to take. These risks can be mitigated by flying with reputable operators. IMHO, these flights present an acceptable level of risk.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 07:08
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Africa is 50 something countries and hundreds of operators. Whilst it would be fair to say that overall the risk of flying in Africa is higher than in Western Europe or North America, if you look at individual countries you will find a huge variance, such as that between, for example, DRC and South Africa, the latter being possibly one of the safest countries in the world in which to fly.

welliewanger's post gives you some good answers. I'd add to the negatives, poor or often non existent ATC over much of the continent.

Safety will not be improved until there is money to throw at it. Most of the governments in Africa are so corrupt that any money thrown at the problems will end up in the Swiss bank accounts of the despots who are in 'power'.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 10:16
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This sounds like a potentially 'hot' subject! Or maybe too big a scope for most people to take on board... Having learnt to fly in Africa, and am still flying commercially in the region, I think the safety issue comes down to a few key points.

Like ageing equipment which appears in a previous post. Aircraft/radios/nav aids that have been 'thrown' out by the West are frequently found operating happily in Africa. I recently got shown around an Antonov that still had bullet wounds from the PREVIOUS Afghan war in its fuselage!

Then there's the training. Personal experience of local training is that it is more important to have a uniform and tie, than quality instructors. Its more important for flying schools to churn out commercial pilots in quantity, than try to achieve quality. People in flying schools are often on a limited budget, and certificates are more important than practical flying skills. 250 CPL with gas turbine/C208 on licence with no idea what keeps a plane in the air or how to really fly. Schools that are so concerned about their accident records, they OFFICIALLY send out students on solos with safety pilots on board, and forbid them to land away from base airports in case of problems.

And lastly the reason a majority of pilots take up flying as a career - its not because they are passionate about flying, and spend all their days dreaming of being in the air, watching birds fly and wind effects etc. No, its often seen as a career that gets you out of Africa, paid opportunities to settle in the West, supply families and relatives with Western goods etc. Most jobs are seen as a fast track to an airline job, where decisions are taken from you and you always fly with a co-pilot. Nice and safe. But not passionate.

I also believe that the more automation there is on board the less pilots have to think for themselves, and the less they can think for themselves when things go wrong and the automation lets you down. I don't think Africa does itself any favours with its no-blame policy either. If someone has a mishap lets all learn from their experience - but no, culturally we'd rather bury the whole story or make a hero out of the guy who screwed up rather than admit we're human and flawed.

We still have way too many CFITS despite GPS, we're still trying to be heroes and land in marginal conditions, we still don't admit we're not as good as we should be, if the job demands it we'll fly a bucket of bolts than be principled adn say its unairworthy, we'd rather blame a hitherto unknown weather/mechanical issue than confess we let things get out of hand, and its more important to look the part and have the paperwork than to be actually able to do the job. Fly solo in the bush - NO, our families would much rather we were soft & comfortable in an airline job for all the goodies that go with it.

There are pilots in Africa that are skilled, principled, talented, trained and fit for the job in great aircraft, doing an amazing job. There are also too many that aren't.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 12:48
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Great Start..

Foxcotte, B737, Welliewanger and Capetonian,

Many thanks for your fantastic feed back

It is evident, the East African community (EAC; Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda) and the South African development community (SADC) has made more progress in areas of regional economic co-operation than the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
However, a close inspection of the 15 members of the SADC will reveal it hosts Africa’s two extremes of the aviation safety spectrum; South Africa accepted as the safest and DRC accused of being at the bottom of the rung.

The Capetown protocol (effective 2006 ) seems to have some degree of success in facilitating procurement of modern aircraft, but with limited access to credit how far will it go for African carriers? The Banjul accord group (29 Jan 2004) is limited to only English speaking 7 countries in West Africa. Yamoussoukro decision; initially consummated August 2000 is yet to be fully implemented by all members over 10 years after coming into effect.
Does this mean :
  • Wrong Strategy?
  • Poor implementation? or
  • Adverse external circumstances ?; Global recession, regional conflict,
For the first time in 8 years, African carriers collectively recorded $100Million profit last year. This is good news for some African operators.

IATA is forecasting a 6.5% growth in commercial international traffic for the area this year. This is even better news for foreign operators who have invested in opening more than 20 new routes to African destinations.Obviously, these carriers are not coming flying into Africa for charity; not with Lagos London noted as the most profitable routes for the British carriers.

In examining the Plethora of causes of the poor safety regime, what are your thoughts on these and any more causes that come to mind:
  1. Lack of common aviation policy objectives within the regions' governments
  2. Regional conflict and Political instability
  3. Lack of skilled man-power
  4. Poor infrastructure and navigation deficiencies
  5. Widespread Corruption
  6. Multiple disharmonious regulations and poor training standards
  7. Lack of synergy within the regional airlines
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 13:01
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To try and give some context: the latest figures for African carriers from February this year were roughly 5% of world passenger miles and 23% of the accidents.

That's western built jets only referred to above and also in the quote below. You might well comment on the age and provenance of these aircraft but those figures are without GA piston, turbo prob or the exiled Eastern European contingent included.

IATA's director general Giovanni Bisignani says: "Flying must become equally safe in all parts of the world. An accident rate in Africa that is over 12 times the global average is not acceptable. Improvements can happen. IATA's African carriers performed significantly better than non-IATA airlines in the region. I encourage all governments in the region to make use of the IOSA tool to boost the region's performance."
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 14:52
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It all depends on what you compare to. If you compare flying in africa to flying in europe, yes, it flying in africa is more dangerous. However, if you compare flying in africa to travel on road in africa, flying starts to look like the best way to keep alive.

If you need to travel in africa, you have two options. 1) fly 2) drive. Roads are in bad condition and people drive like maniacs in poorly maintained cars and trucks. Not to mention the chances of getting robbed on the road. Even (or especially) in DRC flying is significantly safer than driving!

I depressing example was in Kigali where a crj crashed to terminal. 1 pax and two bystanders died... not in the plane crash, but when the ambulance driving the injured from the airport to hospital crashed

If you want to stay safe... stay home!
If you want to travel in africa as safely as possible... fly!
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 15:22
  #9 (permalink)  
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So from the previous information might one conclude that the answer to the original question is that aviation in Africa is really, really unsafe?
(Doesn't 5% of the passenger miles and 23% of the accidents makes an aircraft accident/crash possibility 46 times greater on the sub continent than elsewhere and that's only for jet airline carriers?)
One must concede that driving is pretty hazardous throughout Africa but then that's probably because most of the drivers in Africa either don't or shouldn't have licences.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 15:53
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It is all about money.
Most of Africa is in serious poverty so funds for infrastructure and modern aircraft are simply not available. This feeds a culture of "make do and mend" and low expectations.

Unlike the first world airports capable of taking passenger jets are also a long way apart so when something goes wrong you are usually around 100 miles from the nearest NDB which stopped working years ago and has never been fixed and your nearest diversion is probably 250 miles away.

Pilots often come up through the GA and 19 seat market making a living as bush pilots. Most are excellent at their job but when they eventually make the transition to an airline they are deeply ingrained with the african aviation culture. This is not really compatible with best airline practice.

Airlines which cannot afford decent salaries attract less experienced crews who, in turn, have more interest in building enough hours to get out than in building a professional company culture.

It really does all come back to insufficient money and lack of investment.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 16:36
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I think people are over thinking the problem.

Think back to your human factors where 80% of the accidents are human error.

Aviation is as safe as YOU make it.

Should you make that tight approach or just extend a little wider and giver yourself a stable approach?
Should you push on into that weather when there is mountians around?
Should you land when there is that big thunderstorm on final approach?

I've flown with a lot of different people here and there is a HUGE ego problem.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 16:56
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This feeds a culture of "make do and mend" and low expectations.

Ancient Geek,

Thanks for your response; from which I gather that:

  1. Lack of funds or access to credit is a serious draw-back to safety.
  2. The vast expanse of the land area requires strategic location of emergency, search and rescue facilities.
  3. A culture of "make do and mend"leads to compromise of professional ethics of operations personnel.
Can you elucidate a bit more on the third item "make and mend" culture. I dont want infer but I worked for 12 year in lagos Nigeria and was invlolved in safety advocacy there for some 7 years. So, I have come across some hair raising issues. It'll be useful to know how prevalent issue regarding operational/engineering unsafe practices have led to decline in safety levels.

One of my experiences, in 1996, an operator (Kabo Air) programmed a commercial flight on BAC 1-11 without any crew or passenger oxygen. When the Pilot declined to fly unless given enough fuel to conduct the 1:30hr at FL100, he was fired on the spot. Sadly, another Pilot was told what has happened and threatened with sack if he did'nt take the flight agreed and conducted the flight up to FL250. Obviously, both engineering and operations personnel were complicit in this reckless disregard for safety.
The good news is, this breaches are now in decline.

Last edited by DRPAM007; 26th Dec 2011 at 05:46.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 17:06
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What you fear about flying into Africa!

Thanks guys,
Just to throw more light as to why, I seem to asking questions and seeking clarifications of what may well be obvious. I am doing some research about safety in Africa and trying to be more objective by expanding the scope of my data.
I know there are a lots good of long haul, charter or contract Pilots, and aviation professionals that don't live or work permanently in Africa but they fly there regularly or perhaps occasionally. Giving them the best possible vantage point to compare the levels of safety between Africa and other regions; from an operational perspective.
Two years ago, I know some pilots on a LHR-FAJS don't relax when they're south of latitude N30 until they get into radar contact from Gaborone. There have been improvements like RVSM implementation, CPDLC trials in Algiers, Niamey, Senegal, Chad and Madagascar. So more flight levels and better communications.

However, other issues still persist such as out-dated notams, the usual dead- space around Luanda where you're not even in HF contact, the lack of TAFs or metars for DNKN (Kano, Nigeria), VOR/DME off the air in Lagos but the controllers seem to be oblivious and are asking you for your DME distance and intend to clear you for a VOR/ILS approach 18R, lack of SID's and STARs meaning you have to manually copy clearances prone to errors, changes from semi-circular to quadrantal rules because you're crossing a country just 80nm wide, differing radio failure and interception procedures, poor airport security and infra-structure, Malaria, hot humid weather, thunderstorms, the hotels you stay in, the Power interruptions, local crime,.e.t.c.

You know all the kind of things that remind you of the value of having a life insurance, telling your family you love them before going off to work, having a will with a solicitor somewhere, e.t.c.

All of these for a continent with about 54 nations and a total population less than (one country) India's 1.2 billion people. Noting that India has one set of regulations, one regulatory agency and one civil aviation policy.

( I'm designing a short survey, but I want to include issues that are of relevance to real people who endure the conditions we're hoping will be alleviated. )

So here's the million dollar question:

As a Pilot, what are your personal safety concerns when flying into Africa?
What gives you that slight felling of unease when flying into Africa?
( one liners accepted, but if you the time and the juice, let it rip!)

Thank you all for you input.

Last edited by DRPAM007; 5th Jun 2011 at 21:44.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 17:06
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I was once asked to prepare a loadsheet which would have placed the a/c above MTOW. On becoming aware of this, I contacted a 'superior' (in title only) who told me to 'adjust' the amount of fuel that had been uplifted so as to show a lower figure. I refused and this was one of the events which led to me being fired.

Another was telling someone he was not allowed to smoke on the tarmac whilst the aircraft was being refuelled. He pulled the: "Do you know who I am?" line and when I found out who he was, told him he bloody well ought to have known better.

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Old 4th Jun 2011, 17:08
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G'day DRPAM007

You obviously fly there, so you are as aware as the others on how it works in Afreeka.

Being of Oz descent, l do enjoy the hands on traffic management that one does by thine ones self.

What p!sses me off is the bullsh!t that others spurt to either improve their current status or to just upset yours.

Classic example is a Canadair biz jet wanting a much higher level in N'Djamena than what we were constricting him to. So he lied about his DME from position X! Same DME as us!
We could see him and was no more than two miles in front on the same airway, and he knew it.
He was cleared through our level to climb!

We diverted right and managed to accommodate him, as he blatantly violated our level and area. We were safe and no TCAS call's. He at no time asked us for assistance.

Khama rained and as we crossed into Libya he was forced down below us by Kufra. A Dutch cargo operator was adamant the Canadair had breached many protocols and was threatening over the radio to said fellow of his requirement to meet him in a bar somewhere to punch his lights out, as he maintained his level.

I would love to be there but all the other sh!t that happens there, l couldn't care less and just get on with getting home safely and without incident.

Good luck to all others that venture into bullsh!t area.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 17:14
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Have to agree with Captonian.

Those words by the Sheila in J'burg control "radar identified" are the most reassuring words one can ever hear after passing through the "rest of it!"

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Old 4th Jun 2011, 17:19
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Cool mods!
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 23:07
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To get back to the original question, aviation in Africa is VERY safe if you use reputable ICAO carriers flying well maintained modern aircraft such as SAA. Most international visitors will use one of the many large airlines serving African destinations and have nothing to worry about.

The problems are further down the food chain with the worst offenders being UN aid flights which MUST be contracted to the lowest bidder with no consideration given safety.

Between the best and the worst lie a wide range of carriers of varying reputation, most of which are struggling against a lack of money and resources. In many countries such as the DRC regulation is a joke and
corruption is rife - AVOID.

The statistics could be vastly improved by eliminating the small number of worst cases but this is not easy where there is a national culture of poverty and corruption.
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Old 4th Jun 2011, 23:21
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It depends on how you define "safe", but hull loss rates in Africa of western built transport category aircraft are about 20 times higher in Africa than in the USA.
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Old 5th Jun 2011, 00:55
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hull loss rates in Africa of western built transport category aircraft are about 20 times higher in Africa than in the USA.
Take a closer look at the operators involved and the lack of regulation in the countries concerned. Reputable airlines are as safe as any in the western world. The problem is that the worst cases are skewing the statistics.
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