By Petronella Sibeene
WINDHOEK – Prime Minister Nahas Angula yesterday inaugurated the Africa Civil Aviation Authority (AFRO-CAA), a continental body that will standardize and oversee licensing, training and inspection of the aviation sector in Africa.
Angula, who on behalf of President Hifikepunye Pohamba officiated at the launch, said the establishment of the agency would help Africa address issues of safety and security in the aviation industry.
Accounting for a mere three percent of global air traffic, Africa has a disproportionately large number of air-traffic accidents.
The latest incident on the continent involved the Kenya Airways B737-800 disaster in which nine crew and 105 passengers perished.
The incident resulted in the European Union (EU) banning 62 airlines from Africa flying into their space.
“This is a worrisome development which needs urgent attention. We should not wait for our partners outside Africa to compel us to adhere to international safety standards,” he said.
The establishment of AFRO-CAA is critical as it presents an opportunity to examine the causes of air accidents and develop a strategy to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, them.
In the 1960s and 70s, outgoing colonial powers such as France and Britain established national aviation authorities to regulate commercial carriers.
But lack of qualified staff and little or no government oversight caused local airlines to quickly allow standards to slip until now, when an agency that is hoped will reverse statistics has been established.
The industry deteriorated further with deregulation in some countries, creating a large number of new operators that frequently fly old Soviet-built aircraft leased from the Ukraine, Moldova or other former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
The broader problems of extreme weather, poverty, war and corruption have also had a damaging impact on Africa’s air industry, contributing to numerous crashes over the past decade.
“I am convinced that this continental safety agency will provide us an opportunity to deal with this important matter in a systematic and decisive manner,” said Angula.
The continent-wide air safety agency is modelled on the EU’s Aviation Safety Agency and the United States Federal Aviation Agency.
The premier said that the project has a permanent status and will be manned by flight safety and airworthiness inspectors and personnel licensing officers. The mandate will be to harmonise examinations, personnel licensing, aerodrome certification, surveillance of aircraft, audits of maintenance organisations, and technical and flight training facilities.
The agency will further address deficiencies in African states’ primary aviation legislation, regulations and technical standards relating to personnel licensing, flight operations and airworthiness certification, among others.
Participating states currently are Libya representing Northern Africa, Ethiopia for Eastern Africa, Cameroon for Central Africa, Nigeria for West Africa and South Africa for the Southern African region. These regional bodies will serve as networking agencies under its auspices.
Yesterday, participating countries signed a memorandum of understanding in Windhoek where the headquarters of the agency is seated.
These countries together with Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Kenya account for 80 percent of air traffic on the African continent.
Director of Civil Aviation in Namibia, Bethuel Mujetenga, said the agency intends to reduce Africa’s aircraft accidents currently at 12.4 percent to a world average of 1.3 percent by 2010.
Each member country will pay an annual membership fee of US$40 000 while the African Development Bank (ADB) will also give financial support.
Mujetenga said the continent suffers from a severe brain drain in this sector, thus the agency will seek ways to attract and retain staff in this field.