African’s aviation safety is below acceptable standards –DG IATA

Tony Tyler is the Director-General of the International Air Transport Association, IATA, the clearing house for 243 global airlines. He assumed the position in July 2011. With over three decades of airline sub-sector experience, Tyler is a strong advocate for a safe, secure, efficient and sustainable global air transport industry. In this interview with OLUSEGUN KOIKI in Lagos, the IATA chief spoke of many challenges confronting Africa and, indeed, Nigeria’s aviation industry and proffered solutions on how to solve most of the challenges. Excerpts.

What is your assessment of aviation in Africa?

My personal assessment of aviation in the continent is that aviation supports 6.7 million jobs and some $68bn of economic activity in Africa. Those numbers themselves are impressive and behind them are countless real life examples of how aviation enriches lives across this vast continent. As you can see, I am passionate about aviation and I firmly believe we have only begun to realise the potential for aviation in Africa. Since becoming the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of IATA just over two years ago, it is among the destinations that I have visited most often. Of course, it is a vast continent and I know that I have only just scratched the surface in exploring it. But it is absolutely clear to me that aviation can, and with our combined efforts, will contribute even more to Africa’s development.

Earlier this year, we showcased Africa’s potentials to the aviation world as we held our annual general meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. It was only the third time that the event has been hosted on African soil and it occurred at a golden moment in Africa’s development. This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the African Union. Africa is poised for rapid development and great changes. Half of the fastest growing economies over the next five years are expected to be on this continent. Aviation will not be a passive beneficiary of growth. Its role in driving growth and development will grow even more prominent.

You spoke about the deadline for African airlines to be IATA Operation Safety Audi (IOSA) complaint as ordered in the Abuja Declaration by 2015, do you think African carriers can meet the cut-off date?

It is clear that IOSA is making a difference, not just in Africa, but in safety globally. In each year since 2008 when IOSA became a condition for IATA membership, IOSA carriers have performed better than those that have not been audited to its 900+standards. African governments have recognised the need to improve safety and the Abuja Declaration sets out a comprehensive approach to reaching world-class safety by 2015. I should take a moment to commend Nigeria for the important role that it played in building the political will to reach this agreement.

The Declaration focuses on the establishment of independent and sufficiently funded civil aviation authorities, implementation of effective and transparent safety oversight systems by all African states, completion of IOSA by all African carriers, implementation of accident prevention measures focused on runway safety and loss of control, implementation of flight data analysis and implementation of safety management systems by all service providers.

Is Africa doing enough to raise the bar in aviation safety?

No priority is greater than safety and Africa’s performance is well below what we are achieving globally. In 2012, African airlines had one accident with a western built jet aircraft) for every 270, 000 flights. Globally, the industry average was one accident for about every five million flights. Put another way, African aviation accounts for about three per cent of global traffic. Last year, it accounted for nearly half of the fatalities on Western built jets. While these figures are a shocking call to action, I must say that 2012 also gave us cause for optimism. None of the 25 IATA members in Africa (17 in sub-saharan Africa and eight in North Africa) had an accident. None of the 384 airlines on the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registry had a jet hull loss including some three dozen carriers on this continent. Linking this together is the common theme of global standards.

IATA is actively contributing its expertise and resources to all the Abuja Declaration’s commitments. We are paying special attention to IOSA. Having African carriers on the IOSA registry demonstrates that IOSA’s global standards are achievable by carriers on this continent, but I recognise that it will be a challenge. We are doing workshops with governments and carriers across Africa, and through the International Aviation Training Fund, IATF. We are sponsoring 10 African airlines with in-house training to achieve IOSA registration. Gap analysis for nine of these airlines is complete and the last one will be done in November.

In what ways can governments in Africa help carriers to achieve high safety standards in their operations?

I will take this opportunity, with so many African governments represented here, to urge them to make IOSA mandatory. So far, Egypt and Madagascar are the only governments on the African continent to have done so. More governments joining them will send a signal that Africa is serious about the Abuja Declaration commitment. IOSA can assist governments in safety oversight, but it is not a substitute for effective safety oversight by civil aviation authorities. The results of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme, USOAP, are very telling. As of the end of 2012, only 11 African states have achieved 60 per cent implementation of ICAO’s safety related standards and recommended practices, SARPs. Two of those were newcomers to the list-Mauritania and Sudan.

There is improvement, but over 40 states are below this important benchmark. Meeting the Abuja Declaration’s 2015 commitment will require a major acceleration in the pace across the continent. We have two years and three months before the end of 2015. A lot of ground needs to be covered and we cannot lose momentum. IATA is a committed partner and I hope that over the next days as we will develop an even better understanding of how we must work together as a team of stakeholders to deliver worldclass safety to Africa. While we are focusing on safety, I will need to address two further issues. The first is to encourage states to submit data to the Air Operator’s Certificate database hosted by ICAO. Cape Verde is among the first five states to provide data and the only one from Africa. The data will perform a vital role in helping the industry to manage the proliferation of operational specifications that are being introduced. I hope that Nigeria will be among states submitting by year end. The second is to comment on the European list of banned airlines.

That brings us to the issue of blacklist, how do African airlines get out of the blacklist of European Union?

The Abuja Declaration has spurred work across Africa to improve safety. This stands in stark contrast to Europe’s misguided banned list which lacks transparency needed to guide actions. But as ineffective and unfair as it may be, I don’t see any signs of a change in Europe’s approach. Already, Africa is united, under the leadership of an African Union declaration in efforts to achieve world class safety performance. It cannot be disputed that the major part of the African industry is performing well and in line with global performance levels but the overall safety performance still indicates a gap. I am convinced that successfully delivering on the Abuja Declaration’s target will deliver safety improvements that Europe cannot argue with, that is why IATA is here, engaged and committed, And in anticipation of that success, I can see the African Union taking on a role as interlocutor with Europe on how to reflect these imminent improvements that we all hope for in a revised approach by Europe.

What is your assessment of infrastructure in the Nigerian airports?

As I am in Lagos, my members would be disappointed if I did not mention one piece of physical infrastructure that is in desperate need of urgent attention. That is the fuel transportation infrastructure from Apapa Terminal to the airport. It goes without saying that fuel supply reliability is crucial. We need to find a sustainable long term solution to this long-standing problem. The vandalised pipeline is no longer in use. Trucking fuel through dense traffic for storage on site is inefficient and costly and making unscheduled technical stops to top up fuel causes schedule disruptions and inconveniences for passengers on top of the direct costs of a technical stop. Without making light of the challenges involved, I know that there are many and complex; securing a few kilometers of pipeline is not an impossible task. We are working with the oil industry to find a solution and we will be seeking the government’s political will to help us make it happen. Ensuring fuel reliability is critical to Lagos’s future as a hub for connectivity across South-West Africa.

How do we curtail high airport taxes, charges in Nigeria and other African countries?

In Africa, there are too many exceptions to the pragmatic approach that has been agreed internationally. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate. In Senegal, airport charges include an infrastructure development fee. If airlines and their passengers were enjoying a beautiful new modern and efficient facility, that might be acceptable. But they are paying for an airport that is still under construction. You would not charge a toll for a bridge that is not yet built. ICAO principles indicate that the same approach should be followed here. The Senegal case also highlights the issues with lack of transparency and consultation.

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