The tragic loss of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX this March raised serious questions – including about certification in Africa, Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airline Association of Southern Africa said on Friday.
"Historically, Africa’s safety record was dire, but remarkable progress was made over the past decade and it should no longer hold us back," he said at AASA’s annual general meeting hosted by Air Austral in Reunion.
"The years 2017 and 2018 were unblemished by any fatalities or hull losses involving scheduled airline operations in Africa.
"However, the tragic loss of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX not only brought this run to an end, but has raised serious questions about aircraft design, technology and certification, pilot training and recruiting standards and human factors on the flight deck across the board."
In the view of Zweingenthal, it also prompted a worldwide crisis of confidence in the airworthiness certification model that has been in place and served the industry for decades.
"Our entire industry needs certainty from the safety regulators in each state, on how they will recognise airworthiness certification programmes run by authorities in other countries," said Zweigenthal.
"This is of particular importance in countries, including those in Africa and our region – which until now – have relied on their counterparts in the US, Europe, Canada and Brazil where the major airframe and engine manufacturers are based."
He cautioned that aviation in Africa cannot have "a patchwork situation" where commercial airlines and engines are deemed safe and fit for purpose in one jurisdiction, but not in others.
"Trust must be restored. Changes to the safety, regulatory and airspace management systems are also required to accommodate the increasing fleet of unmanned airborne systems as they take on more commercial air transport roles," he said.
"Aviation’s most important contribution on the continent is to connect markets. In this respect, reforming Africa’s air transport regulatory framework remains critical."
He pointed out that, unfortunately, there are differing views on the African Union’s Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative, intended to help governments leverage sustainable economic growth by opening up and connecting trade and tourism markets with expanded air services.
"There are concerns (among some) on the impact of SAATM on their businesses. In addition some airlines and regulators fear what they see as uneven playing fields," said Zweigenthal.
"For airlines to be profitable, revenue must exceed costs. In Africa the revenue generated reflects the competitive state of play. Yields are generally higher on regional flights and lower for international flights. This is a result of the intense competition provided by airlines from beyond Africa."
Paul Steele, senior vice president member and external relations at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said, in his view, aviation in Africa almost have a blank canvas. This offers a real opportunity for the industry to be flexible, but this would require both airlines and governments to make a mindset change about the benefits of something like SAATM can bring," said Steele.
* Fin24 is a guest of AASA at its AGM.