Fears over airline safety

STARBOW AIRLINE plane crashFOLLOWING the recent overshooting and crashing into the runway’s barricade by a Starbow airplane at the Tamale Airport, many Ghanaians, especially those who patronise the domestic aviation industry, have questioned the safety of the sector.

Even though there were no casualties, the Starbow BAe aircraft, destroyed its front wheel in the process and dented potions of its nozzle. The aircraft was part of a new fleet the airline had acquired earlier this year.

Starbow had in October 2014 suffered the same fate when two people were injured after a Takoradi-bound Starbow aircraft made an emergency landing. Antrak Air, another domestic carrier, has also recorded similarly incidents.

These incidents have mostly been attributed to either the airplanes used or airport infrastructure.

Condition of aircrafts used

It is very expensive to run an airline in this part of the world. Aside aircraft lease payments, maintenance costs, wages and salaries for the crew and staff, and training costs, there are also government permits to pay for, airport taxes, landing fees, in addition to fuel costs – all of which are more expensive in Africa than in the developed world.

Factoring all these costs, in addition to making a decent profit, pushes most of these airlines into buying or leasing old airplanes in order to reduce lease payments and acquisition costs.

This move by domestic airlines to cut cost led to a fatal casualty in Ghana on June 2, 2012 when a Nigerian Allied Air plane crashed on the Giffard (Burma Camp) Road killing 10 Ghanaians.

The flight was an old Boeing 727 which was withdrawn from use in December 1991 after flying for the old Pan-Am Airways for 22 years. That plane was sold to various entities until it was finally acquired by Allied Air Cargo and registered in Nigeria for cargo service.

Maintaining and fixing spoilt aircrafts also comes at an outrageous cost. Ghanaian airlines are subjected to pay taxes and other levies for importing aircraft spare parts, a situation which has the potential of forcing airline operators to repair spoilt parts instead of replacing them.

“A big chunk of our costs are dollar denominated – our pilots are paid in dollars, spare parts are purchased in dollars, fuel is referenced in dollars, doing business is very frustrating,” a CEO of one of the domestic airlines said.

Globally, spare parts for aircrafts are exempted from import duties.

It is for a reason like this that the European Union’s (EU) Commission in Charge of Air Safety placed a ban on Ghanaian-registered carriers from operating flights within the EU largely due to safety concerns in March 2006.

It took a Ghana Civil Aviation Authority’s (GCAA) petition last month to lift the nine-year ban.

Airport infrastructure

Although the Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL) had mid this year announced that strategies are underway to increase capacity and improve the operating efficiencies of the country’s airports – Kotoka International Airport (KIA), Kumasi, Tamale and Sunyani, infrastructure at the country’s airports is still very basic and not adequate to cater for the current growth in Ghana’s aviation industry.

Beyond basic infrastructure like waiting areas and scanners for passenger handling, most regional airports need extreme rehabilitation.

Until December 2014 when lights were installed on the Kumasi Airport runway, the Kotoka International Airport was the only airfield in the country that could accommodate night landing.

It is indeed worth applauding the US$23 million that government spent on renovating the Kumasi Airport’s runway – this shows government’s commitment to improving the country’s aviation facilities.

However, apart from that of Accra and Takoradi Airports, the other runways (Tamale and Sunyani) all need rehabilitation and extension. The short runway in Sunyani limits the number of passengers and baggage that an aircraft can lift out of Sunyani.

The same applies to the Tamale runway. Even before the committee of enquiry into the recent Starbow incident presents their full report, critics blame the occurrence on the short nature of the runway. It is important to note, however, that the Tamale Airport is currently under renovation and it is expected to be upgraded into an international airport.

Although no fatalities have been recorded yet, the regulator GCAA, has to do more to avert such incidents.

Way forward

The aviation sector plays an important role in the global economy by providing connectivity through the only rapid worldwide transport network.

Thus, the direct and wider impact on jobs and GDP globally is enormous – contributing over 22 million jobs and US$1.4 trillion in GDP. Moreover, the sector makes contributions to other industries by facilitating their growth and supporting their operations.

With a significant proportion of international tourists depending on air transport, the aviation industry supports 34.5 million jobs within tourism globally, contributing around US$762 billion a year to world GDP.

The government of Ghana through the Ministry of Transport and the Ghana GCAA has a responsibility to ensure that air travel is safe for Ghanaians. Airlines must be made to carry adequate liability and third party insurance to cover personal injuries and death to passengers and non-flying third parties.

Maintenance logs must be thoroughly and frequently checked to ensure that airlines meet acceptable standards. Landing rights and permits must be denied to airlines with serious and repeated safety violations.

Government must also ensure that airlines comply with international training standards for the cockpit crew and flight staff; and with limitations on continuous flight time to reduce incidences of pilot error due to fatigue.

Source: The Finder

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