Curbing Air Accidents

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The reduction in air crashes in Nigeria in recent times has been attributable to advanced technology in aircraft manufacturing and precision in aircraft safety.

The weak link, according to industry experts, is human. Latest statistics on air disasters in Nigeria revealed that human error contributed about 70 percent of air accidents recorded in recent times.

Africa still holds the record of contributing to the highest number of air crashes in the world, but the good news is that the rate of such crashes has also reduced significantly.

Two major factors have contributed to this improvement. One is that the Civil Aviation Authority in African countries has improved their oversight function; many of them have become autonomous and now strictly enforce regulations. The second is that it has become compulsory for airlines in the continent to obtain the high safety rating of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), which not only opens door for code-share and other kinds of partnership with other airlines but also enables them to operate to more destinations beyond their operational capacity by using their code-share partners.

A challenge the air transport industry is also facing is security. There have been attacks at airports and airborne flights have been bombed down by suspected terrorists despite the seeming overall advancement in security.

The level of security breaches in the world indicates that more actions need be taken to fortify airports. There was the attack at Brussels airport and few months ago at Turkish busiest airport in Istanbul.

Earlier in the year Egypt Air airliner carrying dozens of passengers and several crewmembers was hijacked by a passenger who threatened he had an explosive belt and forced the plane to land at Larcana in Cyprus.

When the pilot was told by the hijacker that he had explosive belt, the pilot did not doubt. Industry analysts said the action of the pilot showed that he didn’t have confidence in the security apparatus of the airport, possibly knowing that a person with explosive could sneak through the security screening process without being screened. Industry observers also argue that the hijacker could do this with insider cooperation, which was evident in the Sham el Sheik bombing of Russian airliner last year.

In Nigeria, the fact that stowaways have had access to the sterile areas of the airports also shows that the airports are not secure.

Last week at the IATA Global Media Day in Geneva, Switzerland, the Director General and CEO of the IATA, Alexander de Juniac, recalled the tragic air crashes in Colombia and Pakistan within one week in which 118 people died and called for the improvement of safety and security in the air transport industry.

He also spoke about the need for government to collaborate and intensify efforts to ensure efficient security system at airports in the face of terror attacks and insider threats.

De Juniac noted that the success of global aviation rests on safety, security, sustainability and in meeting global standards.

He said that flying is safe, but it is not free from accidents, observing that in the last one week, “We have had two tragedies, one in Pakistan and the other in Colombia.” He stated that every accident makes the association more determined to make the industry safer.

The IATA CEO said along with the desire to improve safety in air operation is also the desire to improve security at airports, noting that over the last year two airports have been attacked, there was an attempt to bomb a jet airliner, which failed and terrorists had laid claim to downing an aircraft and “popular tourist destinations have seen bloodshed.’’

He added: “Flying is secure. I fly with confidence and you should too. But there are risks and challenges and these include insider threats, landside exposure at airports, over flight of conflict zones, and cyber security. Efficient airport checkpoints are important. And our smart security programme is making them more effective and convenient. But that alone is not enough to stay a step ahead of those who could do us harm.”

De Juniac said a recent UN Security Council Resolution should remind governments that keeping aviation secure is integral to a state’s responsibility for national security, adding that governments can and must do more by upping the game on intelligence gathering and sharing vital information among themselves and with the industry, “that is the only way that terrorists can be kept away from airports and aircraft.”

He emphasised that safety, security, sustainability and global standards are at the core of aviation’s existence, remarking that while respecting these critical items, airlines must run efficient businesses and generate enough surplus to reward their shareholders.

The industry, according to him, also has a role to play to improve safety and security. “My previous employer, Air France, was specifically mentioned on ISIS websites. So I have thought long and hard about security. And you will see IATA becoming more active in this space”, he stressed.

IATA’s Senior Vice –President, Safety and Flight Operations, Gilbert Lopez Meyer, while making presentations at the event noted that in the past, safety processes were based on understanding why an accident occurred.

“Then there was a deeper level of understanding, including human performance limitations. We are evolving from day to day of purely reactive fixes to an era of constant analysis, enhancement, and risk monitoring to predict future potential risks,” Meyer said.
Although Nigeria has recorded remarkable improvement on air safety, as no major air accident has occurred since 2013, the nation’s airports are still very porous, making them susceptible to attacks.