Fatal October 2004 Boeing 747 freighter crash prompted Ghana's MK Airlines to overhaul aviation safety process

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By David Kaminski-Morrow in London

Canadian investigators have acknowledged strong efforts by freight operator MK Airlines to improve safety, after criticising oversight and operational discipline within the carrier at the time of its fatal Boeing 747-200F crash in Halifax.

In its report into the 14 October 2004 accident, which killed seven crew members, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) says that the nature of MK Airlines’ operations typically involve crews’ flying to airports with poor facilities and experiencing frequent delays and equipment failures.

While the situation accustomed the carrier’s personnel to overcoming hardships, the TSB says: “Unfortunately some of the strengths that this environment brought also generated weaknesses. “These weaknesses were in the form of accepting short-cuts and deviations from procedures when it was deemed appropriate.”

It adds: “Acceptance of non-adherence to company direction and procedures by managers was often tacitly accepted in the belief that it did not generate an unacceptable risk.”

Despite the operator’s suffering three previous accidents – including the loss of another 747 freighter at Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in November 2001 – the TSB says that the expanding airline believed it was adequately managing risks.

It points out that the airline’s expansion and recruitment policies have previously led to shortages of flight crew and increased potential for fatigue and stress on existing personnel.

MK Airlines’ fleet at the time of the crash was registered in Ghana but the TSB says that the Ghanaian civil aviation administration’s safety oversight of the operator was “limited” – despite the “significant risk indicators” present at the carrier – partly because the authority had to maintain even greater scrutiny on another Ghanaian airline.

“Regulatory oversight of MK Airlines by the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority was not adequate to detect serious non-conformances to flight and duty times, nor on-going non-adherence to company directions and procedures,” says the TSB report. It adds that, while MK Airlines had a flight-operations quality and flight-safety programme, it was in the early stages of development at the time of the crash and consequently had “limited effectiveness”.

One month after the accident MK Airlines requested a full audit for International Civil Aviation Organization compliance from the UK government and, as a result of that audit, opted to obtain compliance with European Joint Aviation Requirements.

The company – which also applied for a UK air operator’s certificate – has implemented a range of improvements, putting in place a safety management system, extensively revising its training manual, and undertaking software-assisted crew-scheduling efforts to ensure that pilots do not exceed duty limits.

In a statement MK Airlines says that it has conducted a “comprehensive, pro-active review” of its operations to ensure that it meets the “highest” safety standards.

“Where the investigators indicated areas for improvements that were within our immediate control, we have taken steps to ensure that our policies, processes and procedures adhere to the strictest safety criteria,” it adds.

“Our energies remain focused on ensuring that no such accident ever happens again. A culture of safety and continuous improvement for excellence in all areas lies at the heart of our operation.”


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