With increasing drives to boost air safety regulation in the West comes yet a greater divergence in the safety standards of developing nations. Conducive to this issue, last year saw the extraordinary session of aviation safety in Africa, with the aim to address critical setbacks in the continent’s vast aviation sector. Chief among those was the impact of regulatory oversight on the training of flight crew and maintenance personnel, and its vital role in efforts to reduce the large number of African carriers currently blacklisted in the EU. The agenda proposed during the session highlighted a series of initiatives to improve air safety in the region till 2015, but it is clear that regulation remains entangled in various difficulties that inhibit further progress.
Of the 24 countries that are represented under the blacklist of airlines not permitted to enter European airspace, a staggering 17 of those are African nations, which alone comprises 130 different air operators. To place this in perspective, roughly a third of all African countries are banned from operating in EU territory. Not only does this designate the monopoly on international services from the region to foreign carriers, but the stigma of EU blacklisting is noted to severely constrain further progress through prospective code share arrangements and third party collaboration. In response to this, last year’s session mandated the adoption and implementation of an effective and transparent regulatory oversight system for industry training, underpinned by the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). However, despite the numerous action plans undertaken, its overall success has proven too little and too slow, primarily due to the lack of political will as well as institutional and procedural constraints evident in the region.
‘Political interference with technical aviation is widely regarded as one of the principal threats to aviation safety, be it in developed or less-developed markets. To achieve the objectives outlined last year, it is vital for African states to have effective and autonomous civil aviation authorities. The trend emerging at current however is for the region’s nations to pool resources in establishing regional safety oversight bodies. While the reasons for this shift are valid, bureaucratic and geographic issues mean that it falls short of focusing effective regulation and power on a state level, thereby constraining the agency of CAA personnel to act with confidence in enforcing international safety standards through the training of air crew and maintenance specialists. In fact, over the past two years, audits of aviation risk standards by the Flight Safety Foundation resulted in an average of 93 compliance concerns per audit for African carriers, in comparison to the 17 or so that averaged for Australia,’ comments Dainius Sakalauskas, the Deputy Head of FL Technics Training.
Further issues are presented by the fact that civil aviation regulations in Africa are routinely basic and not tailored to the local environment. Corruption and the lack of state-level oversight has resulted in numerous occasions whereby cavalier operators have not implemented what they have documented or otherwise have been found to be flaunting regulations in a wider respect. In addition, the levels of technical knowledge among maintenance and flight crew is in many cases lower than elsewhere. Much of this is attributed to the lack of adequate training, but also due to the insufficiencies in checking standards that would prevent ineffectual (or even uncertified) people from assuming critical positions.
Compounding the issue is the already occurring threat of brain drain affecting the future of African aviation. Inadequate supply of trained personnel has lead to under-qualified maintenance technicians, ATCs and pilots operating with relatively little supervision. Although there are exceptions to this – for instance, South Africa and Kenya have developed the standard of manpower necessary to perform their oversight functions, elsewhere there appears to be a noticeable drive for quantity over quality in the training of aircraft technical specialists.
D. Sakalauskas suggests that, ‘In order to combat a further brain drain, it will require strategies ranging from skill retention allowances and salary increments to placing greater focus on non-cash benefits. While the former two are perhaps difficult to apply on any meaningful scale given the current economic climate, in the short term air operators seeking to attain EU compliance may reap the benefits afforded by approved training organisations operating on a global level. This would offer the dual benefits of targeting issues hindering international compliance while forging a new path to training a sustainable and local pool of talent.’