Despite the loss of 14 lives, Africa looks set to maintain a positive air safety record for a third successive year, with no fatal commercial airline jet accidents reported during the first half of 2018.
Experts are crediting increased compliance with global aviation standards, better regulation and younger fleets for the improvement.
From less than three per cent of global passenger air traffic but more than two-thirds of fatalities just over two decades ago, Africa entered new territory when it reported zero deaths attributable to a commercial jet aircraft accident in 2016.
The region maintained the record with no fatalities in 2017 as well.
African Jet aircraft losses first fell from an average of 2.21 hull losses between 2012 and 2015, to zero in 2016.
That compared with 0.18 for the Asia Pacific, 013 for Europe, 0.92 for the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Sovet Union republics)and 0.41 for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017.
While 556 people died in 15 fatal commercial airline accidents during 2018, data for the first half of the year shows that there was no fatal jet accident in the region. The only fatal accidents involved small propeller driven aircraft in which 14 people died.
One such accident was the FlySax Cessna 208 Grand Caravan that crashed into a ridge in Kenya’s Aberdare mountains killing eight passengers and two crew on June 5 and a June 24 Let410 cargo charter operated by Eagle Air Guinea in which four people died.
Although the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is yet to release its final airline safety assessment for 2018, Africa is not expected to make alarming headlines.
“A number of factors account for the significant improvements in safety achieved by Africa in recent times,” said Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s African envoy for aero-political affairs.
Mr Kuuchi explains that following the Abuja Declaration in 2012, there has been efforts among key players and stakeholders in the industry to improve aviation safety.
The IATA, the Civil Air Navigation Services organisation, AFRAA and the AU-based African Civil Aviation Commission have pooled technical, financial and material resources to help African states, regulators and airlines to tackle aviation safety.
To this end capacity building courses as well as safety gap analyses were conducted at different points in Africa while states were continuously pushed to get their airlines to adopt the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA).
Besides more airlines signing up for IOSA certification, African states invested in infrastructure and committed resources to addressing safety gaps that have been identified through ICAO safety audits.
Also, concerned about the likelihood of unsafe aircraft entering its territory, the European Union introduced its AU Safety List in the early 2000s on which airlines deemed unsafe were banned from operating in the EU. The list was dominated by African airlines with the DRC and Nigeria taking the lead.
This forced African governments and airlines to invest in air safety and airlines to buy newer aircraft.
Availability of new aircraft types that fit the thin African routes better has encouraged African airlines to transition from aged to new equipment.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, the average age of the African airline fleet is less than 20 years, compared with the high 30s two decades ago.
“New aircraft have better reliability and operational efficiencies. On average, they are less susceptible to technical failures than ageing aircraft,” Mr Kuuchi added.