South Africa leads aviation safety in Africa - ICAO

2017-05-22 23:30 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - The South African civil aviation industry has been under the spotlight over the last two weeks as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) conducted an audit of the country’s competence in relation to aviation safety oversight systems.

Travellers flying across South Africa’s skies and using one of the 13k+ aircraft on SA's aircraft registery should feel safe and secure.

That’s the message, following the release of preliminary results as SA’s performance and improved safety measures have see it rated as the number one safest country in Africa when it comes to aviation.

Overall, the 2017 report shows safety and aviation standards in SA have improved by more than 3.43%. Before the audit, South Africa was at position 41 globally in relation to ICAO’s Effective Implementation and at position two in Africa.

Higher than world average and 33rd position overall

On Monday, 22 May it was announced that South Africa’s ICAO audit results have risen from 83,83% to 86,71% - with SA’s level of Effective Implementation of ICAO’s Critical Elements significantly higher than the world average of 60%.

This also currently puts South Africa at position 33 globally. The SACAA says completing an audit without a significant safety concern is crucial for a country. ICAO may identify what is referred to as a ‘Significant Safety Concern’ for the audited country with regard to its ability to properly oversee its air operators/airlines; airports - which could effectively result in a decision to ban airlines and other operators from flying into or out of a country.

SEE: Becoming a global aviation leader: Is SA on track?

The programme is achieved by assessing the effectiveness of the implementation of eight critical elements of a safety oversight system by member States as detailed by ICAO.

The elements are as follows:

 •       Primary aviation legislation;

•       Specific operating regulations;

•       State civil aviation system and safety oversight functions;

•       Technical personnel qualifications and training;

•       Certification and approval obligations;

•       Technical guidance, tools and the provision of safety critical information;

•       Surveillance obligations; and

•       Resolution of safety concerns.

In yet another assessment of aviation safety standards, the European Commission list for banned non-European Airlines who failed to meet the safety standards was updated on Tuesday, 16 May.

The notorious European Commission blacklist, which sees African airlines particularly getting a bad wrap, saw Mozambique and Benin carriers removed from the unsafe carriers list, while Zimbabwe’s ailing carrier Air Zimbabwe has been added.

SEE: EU Air Safety Blacklist: Mozambique and Benin airlines cleared as Zimbabwe carrier banned

Similar to ICAO, the EU Air Safety List aims to help maintain high levels of safety as well as assist affected countries to improve their levels of safety, but industry experts have called the EU blacklist “opaque” and lacking in transparency when it comes to the measures used to define why an airline has been banned.

Considering that an adverse ICAO finding could clip the wings or simply ground the nearly thirteen thousand (13 000) aircraft operating in SA and also erode the R50 billion contribution that air transport makes to the South African GDP alone - transparency is paramount.

But South Africa’s improved safety performance means there isn’t any concern for the industry being affected negatively at the moment.

According to the SACAA, the ICAO audit was earmarked in 2016 originally and conducted from the 8th to 18th May 2017 and included audit areas namely Legislation, Organisation, Personnel Licencing, Airworthiness, Operations, and Accident and Incidents Investigation.

The ICAO audit team arrived in the country on 5 May and was officially welcomed by the Minister of Transport, Joe Maswanganyi.

Decline in accidents since 2014

Maswanganyi applauded South Africa’s "impeccable zero fatality rate in relation to scheduled commercial operations, ie airlines, and urged those engaged in private flying to work hard to improve safety levels".

“Regardless, I am comforted by the fact that statistics indicate that things have been improving lately, particularly in the last four years," says Maswanganyi.

"The number of accidents has been declining since the 2013/14 financial year, when 144 accidents were reported. Four years later, the number has dropped by a massive 50%, i.e. to 72 aircraft accidents during the 2016/17 financial year.”

The Minister credited the decline in aircraft accidents to various safety promotion interventions at a “State level, coupled with initiatives by the SACAA, and industry”.

He urged South Africa’s aviation agencies to continue to participate in international forums in order to learn from and impart skills among peers across the continent and the world.

According to Poppy Khoza, who heads the SACAA as Director of Civil Aviation (CEO), the SACAA’s recent accolades in relation to its performance as a sign that the Regulator and the country are capable of maintaining an adequate safety oversight system.

“In our view, any independent acknowledgement of good governance and exceptional performance by the Civil Aviation Authority is welcome because it automatically gives assurance to those that use air transport that civil aviation safety and security oversight is indeed managed properly.

“We cannot be a Regulator that struggles with compliance with local and international requirements. Moreover, we cannot expect licence-holders to be compliant when we are not.”

The ICAO audit team did not raise any Significant Safety Concern against South Africa. On the contrary, the auditors were said to be full of praises for country's handling of civil aviation matters, according to the department of Transport.

100% performance for Legislation, Organisation and aviation medicine

“Initial results also show that South Africa’s sterling performance resulted in 100% performance in two key audit areas of Legislation and Organisation as well 100% in the sub-field of aviation medicine,” says Khoza.

The ICAO audit team pointed out several areas, such as the Airworthiness, Legislation, and Accident Investigations, as South Africa’s best practice and intend sharing these with the rest of the world.

The SACAA says it expects to receive the final audit report within the next 45 days, whereby it will carefully study the outcomes and put “emphasis on areas that may require improvement, and continue to excel in areas where we came out the best”. 

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