Kenya flies high in air safety but stumbles at crash investigation - Daily Nation

Kenya flies high in air safety but stumbles at crash investigation


Kenya flies high in air safety but stumbles at crash investigation

About a third of the aircraft crashes occur on the runway during landings and take-offs

Air travel in Kenya has seen improvements in the past few years but the country’s ability to properly investigate air crashes lags, a Nation Newsplex review of air safety data reveals.

Kenya’s air safety score was 78 percent in 2017, a 16 percent improvement from 2008, according to data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The score places it seventh in Africa and at position 67 out of 185 states in the world.

ICAO’s Universal State Oversight Audit Programme measures a nation’s air safety based on eight factors: air crash investigations, civil aviation organisation, airfields and ground aids, aviation legislation, aircraft operations, air navigation services, personnel licensing and training, and airworthiness of civil aircrafts.

Kenya’s best mark was in aircraft airworthiness, in which it scored 95 percent. Airfields and ground aids came in second with 87 percent whereas personal licensing and training had 83 percent.

Despite Kenya’s impressive show overall, it scored a paltry 40 percent in air crash investigations, the lowest score of the eight factors assessed. Without any reports on major improvements in this area in the two years after the audit was completed, this implies that the country is yet to provide effective processes to ensure proper investigations of air crash incidents.

Insufficient training on air crash investigation contributes to flaws such as lack of timely launching of investigations, failure to preserve essential volatile evidence and poor management of investigations, as well as weak investigation results and safety recommendations.

According to the audit report released in 2018, about two-thirds of ICAO member states were yet to establish standard investigation procedures, with a similar proportion lacking adequate training programmes for their aircraft accident investigators.

“A significant safety concern does not necessarily indicate a particular safety deficiency in the air navigation service providers, but rather points to the State not providing sufficient safety oversight to ensure the effective implementation of applicable ICAO standards,” states the report.
More fatalities
A Newsplex examination of data on aircraft crashes from the Transport ministry indicates that an estimated 111 crashes occurred in Kenya since 2010. The crashes range from minor to serious incidents, and from training flights, to private, cargo and commercial flights. A total of 14 of the crashes were fatal resulting in 38 deaths.
During the period under review, the year 2016 had the highest number of aircraft crashes at 26, followed by 2014 with 18. However, even though the year is not yet over, 2018 leads in deaths, at 10, followed by 2017 with five.

The 2018 tragedy involved a Fly-SAX plane with the 10 people on board crashing into Elephant Hill in the Aberdare Ranges. Preliminary investigations pointed to a combination of the crew’s unfamiliarity with the route and poor visibility due to foggy weather as the causes of the crash. All passengers and crew on board died.

In October last year, a helicopter with five occupants crashed into Lake Nakuru, killing everyone on board.

The aviation safety ranking also shows Kenya topping in Eastern Africa. Rwanda comes second, with 74 percent followed by Ethiopia (69 percent), Tanzania (64 percent), Uganda (61 percent) and Burundi (26 percent). There is yet to be an audit result for South Sudan.

Globally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) leads with 99 percent, followed closely by South Korea (98.5 percent), Singapore (98 percent), France (96 percent) and Canada (95 percent).

The best-ranked African country is South Africa with 87 percent followed by Mauritania (86 percent) and Togo (85 percent).

Djibouti lags behind the rest of the world at four percent, followed by the Cook Islands (5.6 percent), Haiti (six percent), the Central African Republic (seven percent) and Guinea-Bissau (11 percent).

Kenya is also among 48 percent of the 185 ICAO member states whose air safety score is above the global average of 65 percent.

The number of airfields increased by nine percent from 450 in 2013 to 491 in 2017, according to the Economic Survey 2018. This is linked to the government’s initiative of equipping every county with a functional airstrip. On the other hand, aviation personnel licences increased by six percent from 9,059 in 2016 to 9,577 in the same period.

Kenya’s other strengths were air navigation services (83 percent) and legislation and civil aviation regulations (76 percent).

Timely progress

This progress is vital, coming at a time when the country is increasing its competitiveness at providing superior customer experiences through its flights and services.

In 2016, the US Federal Aviation Administration blacklisted Kenya’s airspace as a conflict zone in what it termed as the “possibility of extremist or militant activity.”

However, the US Government reviewed this classification in 2017 and declared that the country met all ICAO standards of aviation safety.

This new status rewarded Kenya Airways the rights to operate direct flights to the United States, with the maiden trip expected in October this year.
Runway incidents
Globally, more than half (55 percent) of the crashes in 2017 were incidents on the runway and they claimed six percent of the deaths. A fifth of the incidents involved pilots losing control of aircraft in the air, which led to 12 percent of the deaths.

Despite having the least share of occurrences (one percent), cases of aircraft being flown into terrain, water or obstacles accounted for three in four of deaths in air crashes globally in 2017.

In Kenya, about a third of the aircraft crashes occur on the runway, during landings and take-offs, as a result of landing gear faults, overshooting the runway, or intrusions on the runway.

Engine failures account for a fifth of these accidents, followed by loss of control and ground incidents, at eight percent each. Crashes into obstacles accounted for seven percent of the incidents and over half of the fatalities (53 percent).

Insufficient training on air crash investigation contributes to flaws such as lack of timely launching of investigations, failure to preserve essential volatile evidence and poor management of investigations, as well as weak investigation results and safety recommendations.

Investigations are crucial in identifying grey areas which can be addressed and help in preventing more accidents.

Probes were concluded in two of the five crashes reported, and recommendations made by the Air Accident Investigation Department.

The global air accident rate increased by 14 percent from 2.1 accidents per million take-offs in 2016 to 2.4 accidents per a million departures in 2017, according to the ICAO Aviation Safety Report 2018.
Globally, the year 2014 had the highest number of deaths from commercial plane crashes in the past five years, at 911. This dropped by 95 percent to 50 in 2017, making it the safest year for air travel.