Aircraft Accidents in Namibia

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By Dr Moses Amweelo Aviation has traditionally been one of the most important transport sectors in the Namibian economy. This is primarily because the country consists of vast but breathtakingly beautiful wilderness and deserts that are sparsely inhabited and more easily accessible by air than by road. With over 500 civil registered aircraft, over 930 pilots, and over 70 aircraft operators frequently servicing the tourism, business, postal, mining, farming and other sectors it is not difficult to see that aircraft accident and injury prevention is a major concern in the country. A systematic approach toward identification, categorisation and remedy of aircraft accidents and incidents has therefore been developed in Namibia that conforms to internationally accepted standards and practices. This has been done by giving due consideration to the level of training given to aviation personnel, the type of aircraft operated in Namibia and the unique environment in which aviation activities are carried out within the country. An aircraft accident implies some degree of damage or injury associated with the operation of an aircraft. The most widely used definition for “aircraft accident” is the one developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and reads as follows: (ICAO Annex 13, 1994): Accident. An occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the times any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight until such time as all such persons have disembarked, in which: – A person is fatally or seriously injured as a result of: – being in the aircraft – direct contact with any part of the aircraft, including parts which have become detached from the aircraft, or – direct exposure to jet blast, except when the injuries are from natural causes, self-inflicted or inflicted by other persons, or when the injuries are to stowaways hiding outside the areas normally available to the passengers and crew; or – The aircraft sustains damage or structural failure which: – adversely affects the structural strength, performance or flight characteristics of the aircraft, and – would normally require major repair or replacement of the affected component, except for engine failure or damage, when the damage is limited to the engine, its cowlings or accessories, or for damage limited to propellers, wing tips, antennas, tyres, brakes, fairings, small dents or puncture holes in the aircraft skin, or – The aircraft is missing or is completely inaccessible. The ICAO recommended definition for aircraft incident reads as follows: (ICAO Annex 13, 1994), Incident: An occurrence, other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft which affects or could affect the safety of operation. There are also many definitions for “aviation safety” but the simplest to quote here is (Aviation Safety Programs, 1991): Aviation Safety is the freedom from hazard or the absence of risk that may lead to an aircraft accident or incident. Namibia’s stated goal for investigating aircraft accidents and incidents is to establish the facts and causes that lead to such occurrences, with the intention of publishing safety recommendations that when implemented will prevent further such occurrences and enhance aviation safety. Per accepted international practice, it is not the purpose of investigations to apportion blame or liability. When an accident or incident occurs the following immediate costs may be or are often incurred: loss of the aircraft or parts thereof that will need to be replaced; medical costs of handling injured and or deceased persons. Most of these costs (re-purchase of aircraft, spare parts and medicines) must be paid for with Namibia’s much needed foreign exchange. In addition to these immediate direct costs, which are normally “insured” there are a host of unseen and hence “uninsured” costs. A number are listed below: Insurance deductibles that arise as a result of an accident or incident; lost time and overtime labour charges; the cost of investigation; the cost of hiring and training replacement personnel; loss of productivity of injured personnel; cost of clean up and restoration of order; loss of use of equipment; loss of spares or specialized equipment; fines and citations; legal fees and litigation resulting from the accident; increased insurance premiums; liability claims in excess of insurance; loss of business and damage to reputation; cost of corrective action. Many of these costs can be very expensive and eat into Namibia’s precious hard currency reserves. So it can be seen that aviation occupational ergonomics and safety or aircraft accident/injury prevention is an economic necessity in Namibia and must therefore be effectively managed, and improved to prevent accidents and injuries. This is done by removing hazards, reducing the probability of accidents and minimizing the severity of accident consequences. Methods Used in Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation Namibia’s aircraft accident/incident investigations are organized and conducted by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Branch in the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication. The techniques employed for gathering information for aircraft accident and incident investigations are listed hereunder and included: – crash site examination – witness statement recordings – video and photography recordings – medical and psychological examinations – impact dynamic tests calculations – aircraft systems examinations – aerodynamic tests and calculations – maintenance records examinations – flight data/voice recorders examinations – meteorological record examination The format in use by Namibia for reporting on aircraft accidents or incidents is given below (ICAO Annex 13, 1994). Factual information History of the flight, injuries to persons, damage to aircraft, other damage, personnel information, aircraft information, meteorological information, aids to navigation, communications, aerodrome information, flight recorders, wreckage and impact information, medical and pathological information, fire, survival aspects, tests and research, additional information, new investigative techniques. ii Analyses Civil Aviation documentation (validity of licences, certificates, etc.), maintenance and airworthiness (condition of the aircraft, engine, etc.), flight crew and flight (crew performance, flight characteristics, etc.), other (witness statements), photographs, medical examinations, impact dynamics, etc.). iii Conclusions These are unique to each accident or incident and are drawn from the information garnered from the factual information and analyses above. Recommendations These are made directly from the conclusions drawn above. Results obtained from Namibia Aircraft Accidents/Incidents The following information constitute a summary of the results/statistics obtained on the aircraft accident/incident situation in Namibia: Number of occurrences – flights crew illness/ – Aircraft operation related incapacitation event – separation in flight – Equipment/system related event -Injuries to persons – Loss of control – Damage to aircraft – Diversion – Weather related event – fire/explosion/fumes – Gear collapse/retracted – Power loss-engine – Overrun – Near collision with aircraft/object – ATC related event – Component/system failure – Other event – Take off/landing It should be noted that most of the above categories are often further divided into sub-categories for more detailed analysis. Occurrences by Phase and Cause November 1998 to July 2001 Phase of occurrences Causes of occurrences – Take off – 24% – Pilot human factors – 48% – Cruise – 28% – Machine – 27% – Landing – 33% – Environment – 19% – other – 15% – Other – 6% Occurrences by Regions – November 1998 to July 2001 Caprivi Region (2.30%), Erongo Region (14.20%), Hardap Region (4.60%), Karas Region (10.10%), Khomas Region (39.40%), Kunene Region (3.20%), Ohangwena Region (0%), Okavango Region (0%), Omaheke Region (1.80%), Omusati Region (0%), Oshana Region (0.90%, Oshikoto Region (3.70%), Otjozondjupa Region (6.00%), International-outside Namibia (13.80%). Discussion and Conclusions The majority of occurrences are happening to aircraft below 5 700kg in maximum all up weight. These comprise the bulk of aircraft on Namibia’s Civil Aircraft Register. Accident analyses have shown that as many as 48% of occurrences are as a result of human factors, 27% by machine, 19% by environment and barely 6% by other or by conditions which could not be prevented. Phases of occurrences, the majority 57% take place during take-off and landing, and in occurrences by regions the majority are taking place in the Khomas and Erongo regions. These are occurring at or near the major cities (Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund) which tend to have a heavier concentration of aviation activities than other areas. In order to reduce aircraft accident and incidents in Namibia prevention programs should in particular cover: – Khomas and Erongo regions, unique aviation environment and procedures. – Aircraft in these regions below 5 700kg maximum all up weight. – Pilots’ safety awareness and training for operation in these regions (particularly during take-off and landing). Intensive aviation safety programs should be developed and effected for pilots and aircraft below 57 00kg who operate in the Khomas and Erongo regions of Namibia.