Africa accounts for only 4 per cent of the world's air traffic but nearly a third of the world's air disasters take place on the continent, a senior aviation official says – so dismal is the situation that African aviation authorities meeting here on Thursday decided to form regional organisations to investigate all air crashes and tighten safety standards…
Officials say Africa's disproportionate share of aircraft disasters is often attributed to bad equipment, poor maintenance and failure to adhere to safety standards. Poor infrastructure and emergency response services in many African countries can lead to more deaths.
Aviation expert Mwangi wa Kamau said his African Civil Aviation Agency, based in Windhoek, Namibia, has struggled to bring African states into compliance with international safety standards. He said he witnessed poor safety practices in his work as chief aviation accident investigator in his native Kenya and in Namibia.
Since 1945, Congo has had more fatal crashes than any other African country, with more than 20 in the past 13 years, says the Aviation Safety Network.
Most of the planes flying there are aging Soviet-era aircraft.
One of the more recent Congo crashes was in April last year, when a DC-9 skidded off the runway during takeoff and crashed into a neighbourhood in an eastern town, killing at least 44 people. The condition of the runway is suspected of contributing to the crash. Lava flow from a volcano eruption several years before oozed onto the runway and solidified, cutting its length by more than half to about 600m.
The causes of some other recent crashes remain a mystery.
– Yemenia Flight 626 plunged into the ocean off East Africa on June 30, killing 152 people. Only a teenage girl survived. Investigators have not determined the cause of the crash, partly because the black boxes recovered from the Indian Ocean were damaged.
– On May 5, 2007, a Kenya Airways plane nose-dived into a swamp in Cameroon, killing all 114 aboard after less than a minute in flight. The wreckage was not found until more than 40 hours after the crash. There is still no official ruling on the cause of the crash.
According to the International Air Transport Association, Africa has the highest incidence of the most typical type of crash – runway crashes during takeoff or landing – with nearly 4 cases per million flights.