African Airlines Complain of Safety Misperceptions

 - December 4, 2018, 9:08 AM

Airline CEOs appearing at the recent African Airlines Association (AFRAA) annual general assembly in Rabat, Morocco, touted an improving safety record on the continent and lamented what they called a misperception by the international community that paints African air transport as substandard.

Suffering no jet hull losses for two years running and following two years of no fatalities involving any airline aircraft type, Africa has demonstrated progress in the area of safety. However, the international community appears far from satisfied. According to the International Air Transport Association, only 24 African states comply with at least 60 percent of the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) set by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

“Quite simply, that is not good enough for an industry that depends on global standards for safety,” said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac, who added that governments across the continent need to ensure the independence of safety oversight bodies and cooperate regionally, where pooled resources can improve both speed and efficiency.     

Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde GebreMariam noted that most of Africa’s safety problems are isolated to only a few of the continent’s 54 countries. “It is very unfortunate that safety in Africa is made a point of discussion in conferences like this one,” he said. “Because of this very small number of countries where there are safety issues, the whole continent is affected. There is a collateral damage in terms of reputation.”

GebreMariam cited carriers such as Royal Air Maroc, Ethiopian Airlines, and Kenya Airways (KQ) as more accurate representations of Africa’s compliance with global safety standards. He added that a commitment to safety must amount to more than an effort to pass audits. “Safety has a paramount importance in an airline business,” he said. “And it has to be built in the DNA of the airline in all sectors of business of the airline.”

In fact, GebreMariam complained that safety oversight has become overly complex and overlapping. “Primarily there is a national government safety oversight,” he explained. “Then we have regional safety oversights for instance like EASA in Europe [and the] FAA in the U.S. There is also international oversight rules of ICAO and IOSA. Most of these oversight requirements and standards are similarly expressed in different forms so there is an overlap.”

Sebastian Mikosz, group managing director and CEO of Kenya Airways, argued that safety standards in Africa do not differ materially from those in Europe. “We are under constant control,” he said. “We are under scrutiny all day long. The scrutiny is coming from EASA, FAA, from our civil aviation authorities, from OEMs who come to see if we are operating the planes properly and how our maintenance and engineering department is doing.”  

Mikosz echoed GebreMariam’s sentiments about overlapping oversight and urged delegates to compare Africa’s safety record with those of other regions. “I would not be concerned about safety in Africa because all the global safety standards are being implemented,” he said. “I would rather be concerned with over implementation of standards. When we can do one procedure we do three, which make African carriers less competitive.”   


Unfortunately, the misperceptions of safety in Africa lies with the airline CEO’s who apparently don’t understand the difference between oversight of them versus audits of other entities. The FAA has no oversight authority in Africa except for US certified repair stations and US registered aircraft. The FAA does not conduct surveillance of African carriers in Africa nor do they have the authority. The FAA IASA program is an audit of the civil aviation authority of an ICAO member State, not of an airline from that State. Referencing EASA and IOSA are equally incorrect statements from these CEO’s. This misperception may be the reason for 60% compliance with ICAO Standards by African States. My bet is that this number is optimistic at best. An airline can only be compliant with international Standards if its civil aviation authority meets those Standards, which by the way, are State obligations, they are not optional choices. I would be happy to educate these CEO’s so they can help their State and their airline be truly compliant with international safety standards if that is really their goal.