It has long been accepted that certain world regions provide a disproportionate number of the global air-transport industry's serious accidents. These events influence public perception of air-transport safety and, if they are serious accidents, that perception does not take much account of where they happen. Even if they do occur in one of the less-safe parts of the world, the safer regions - and their airlines - also suffer from the public's greater perception of all air travel as being an inherently dangerous form of transport.
No flight-safety conference since 1990 has been complete without a speaker reminding the delegates yet again that in a growing industry, unless accident rates are reduced, accident numbers will increase, generating even more of the relentlessly negative press coverage which the airlines fear.
The figures for 1996 will prove this. It was not a good year, with fatalities soaring well above the annual average for the previous ten years because an unusually high proportion of the accidents involved heavy casualties (1996 airline flight-safety will be fully analysed in Flight International, 15-21 January issue).
Pakistan International Airlines corporate safety chief Capt Amjad Faizi woke up the delegates to the world's major annual airline-safety conference by effectively accusing them of targeting the wrong issues if they are serious about making major improvements to world airline safety. The essence of Faizi's presentation is that the fatal-accident rates of most Third World, or developing, nations are ten times as high as the world average and 20 times as high as those of the best carriers, so the biggest improvements will be achieved by targeting the least safe areas.
Speaking at November's Dubai conference of the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), the International Federation of Airworthiness and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Faizi said: "The aviation industry as a whole has to crusade to bring about the awakening of the Third World-I cannot over-emphasise that safety-performance improvement of the entire aviation industry can never be achieved without taking the Third World along."
Faizi admits that he struggles to find appropriate collective terminology for the world states or regions he is describing, alternating between "Third World" and "Developing World", and sometimes using "North" to refer to the more mature economies, and "South" for the converse.
One of the main themes of the Dubai seminar was the development of strategies for reducing approach-and-landing accidents, because this is statistically by far the most vulnerable phase of flight. At the same conference, a Boeing presentation listed the hull-loss accidents worldwide for the 12 months starting on 1 November, 1995: it showed that 17 of the 24 accidents, and 11 of the 17 approach/landing accidents, involved airlines based in Third-World or developing countries.
The figures confirm Faizi's proposition that any strategy to advance worldwide flight safety will be ineffective unless it can "-take the Third World along".
Preaching to the converted
Safety organisations have never deceived themselves about the fact that, by and large, at their conferences they are preaching to the converted. They convene each year, however, in the hope that cash-strapped airlines from poor nations will find the personnel and the money to attend. Most do not.
Presumably those who attend hope also that safety strategies thrashed out at seminars will reach the non-attenders by some sort of trickle-down effect. The FSF distributes safety material worldwide but acknowledges that, unless the will and the means to make use of it exists, it cannot have the desired effect.
Faizi points out that 40 nations were represented at the Dubai seminar, which sounds impressive, but it means that 140 aviation nations were not present. He observes: "Concepts like crew-resource management and line-oriented flight training, which have become household words in the 'North' are alien to the crews of the 'South'."
The airlines are not the only ones with problems. The state of air-traffic-control (ATC) services over most of Africa - a long-standing problem - has just been highlighted dramatically by the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA) (Flight Inter- national, 27 November-3 December, 1996, P6). IFALPA spells out in fine technical detail all the ATC shortcomings over more than three-quarters of Africa. The pilots were giving formal notice to the world that, because north/south traffic has increased threefold since South Africa shed its apartheid system, unless action is taken, a mid-air collision is just a matter of time.
Simple procedural ATC systems - provided that they are operated properly by appropriately trained personnel - are fine until traffic increases beyond their limited capacity, they say. In most of Africa, however, procedural ATC is not being operated properly, and the traffic is now getting to the limit of what a procedural system could handle, claim the pilots.
Africa's experience is going to be repeated elsewhere as the industry grows, one existing example being large sectors over the former USSR, which now takes international en route traffic in airspace where, in 1989, there was none. Russia and most of the CIS countries have at least admitted that a problem exists and taken the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as their re-equipment consultant. This has placed major demands on IATA, which is a trade association rather than an ATC consultancy, although it has access to considerable expertise.
Finance is difficult for the CIS, and the issues of having to provide for traditionally equipped domestic traffic for many years yet robs the authorities of the simple option of leapfrogging straight for Automatic Dependent Surveillance or other future air-navigation systems solutions. Traffic density in the CIS outside the relatively well-equipped terminal areas, however, has not yet approached the levels that some African routes now face.
IFALPA and the International Civil Aviation Organisation have listed as "critically deficient" ATC services in all African states apart from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in the north, and Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in the south. The Association adds that not all the "deficient" states fail to provide every ATC service, but gives a chilling list of general shortcomings, including:
- failure to notify defective equipment;
- inadequate ATC infrastructure and technically sub-standard ATC units;
- inadequate communication with aircraft and other ATC centres (ATCCs):
- inadequate radar cover:
- lack of air-traffic controller/communicator training and competency;
- reliance on pilots using the In-flight Broadcast Procedure (IFBP) to arrange their own separation - some pilots do not adhere to the IFBP;
- non-mandatory use of transponders.
Faizi puts regulatory slackness at the top of his list of Third-World airline-safety problems. Where national budgets are tight, he says, there is a tendency for whoever is head of the national airline to be chief also of the regulatory authority, a situation which in Faizi's opinion "-spells disaster".
The regulatory authority also normally embodies the investigative authority, which Faizi says should ideally be separated, like the USA's Federal Aviation Administration and its National Transportation Safety Board. As a result of the lack of functional separation, and also lack of expertise among regulatory authority staff who are poorly resourced even compared with airlines, the authority tends to be a rubber-stamping agency, says Faizi.
Since the joint appointment is also often a political one, Faizi adds, the aviation chief may well be inappropriately qualified for the role. Frequently, the chief is military or ex-military, which Faizi warns can be bad because of the different nature of military, compared with business organisation, and of civilian safety culture and regulatory enforcement compared with military law. Military enforcement is based on blame and deterrence by punishment. In an airline, this sort of approach produces a culture of secrecy, in which mistakes are covered up instead of examined for future prevention.
In poor countries, Faizi points out, the state-owned airlines are seen as providers of hard currency, which can be siphoned off by the Government exchequer, leaving the carrier with little capital to invest in quality primary or refresher training.
No immediate results
"The best help," says Faizi, "is self-help." Pooling regional training resources would be a start, he says. Since most Third World states could not afford separate regulatory and investigative agencies, Faizi suggests that these functions should be regionalised, giving examples of Africa, South America and South Asia as regions which might profitably consider this.
Agencies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the FSF should carry out studies to identify the precise corrective action needed, Faizi believes, saying that his examination identifies only the generic nature of third-world aviation problems
There is hope for the future, however, says Faizi: "Only recently has the gravity of the situation been understood and adequately qualified professionals are being inducted for the performance of regulatory functions; but such a change will not bring about immediate results. It will be some time before the systems settle down and start producing positive results."
Source: Flight International