Safe Skies for Africa Ends, but the Safety Journey Continues

By: Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Office of Safety Advocacy

August 2019 Safe Skies for Africa symposium, Lagos, Nigeria
NTSB staff and attendees at the Safe Skies for Africa symposium in Lagos, Nigeria

After 21 years, the Safe Skies for Africa (SSFA) program officially came to an end last week at a symposium in Lagos, Nigeria. The program was established in 1998 in part to increase direct commercial air service between the United States and Africa, which was minimal at the time. Administered by the US Department of Transportation and funded by the US State Department, the SSFA program has accomplished many of its original objectives since inception, including improving the safety and security of aviation on the African continent. Over a dozen symposia and workshops have been held over the life of the program, and we organized past SSFA symposia with the South Africa Civil Aviation Authority and Kenya’s Air Accident Investigation Department. This year’s event was hosted by the Air Investigation Bureau-Nigeria (AIB-N), who also sent a team of accident investigators and industry representative to participate.

Former NTSB Managing Director (and program pioneer) Dennis Jones spent nearly 20 years in the SSFA program, participating in accident investigations, conducting workshops, helping improve accident investigation programs, and training investigators. In his opinion, the Safe Skies program has done what it was created to do. At the outset of the program, few African airlines and hardly any US airlines were flying to Africa, even though it’s the world’s second-largest continent. Today, two US carriers provide direct service to Africa, and six African countries (Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, Morocco, Cape Verde, and Kenya) have direct routes to the United States.

Along with increased US commercial air service to Africa, air investigation quality has improved, resulting in a lower accident rate and greater safety in commercial aviation in Africa. Many African nations now have their own accident investigation agencies, and some are even developing multimodal agencies based on the NTSB model.

We were honored to again join other NTSB communications specialists and experts, as well as former NTSB Managing Director Dennis Jones, for the final symposium. The symposium focused on the following topics:

  • The NTSB’s background and history
  • Emerging aviation safety issues
  • The investigative process and human factors
  • Accident classification and substantial damage
  • Helicopter operations
  • The challenges of providing family assistance
  • Effective safety advocacy: creating positive change in transportation safety

Our team shared lessons learned from NTSB accident investigations, as well as strategies to help our international counterparts take steps in their own aviation safety journey. The AIB-N participants were focused and receptive to our presentations, and the event was bittersweet as we parted ways with old colleagues and brought the program to a close.

Although the SSFA program has resulted in many improvements over its 21 years, more remains to be done. Safe and reliable aviation connects people all over the world, in more ways than you may realize. Aircraft components, engines, and airframes come from manufacturers all over the world. The airplanes they comprise might be flown by airlines in any country. We are all stakeholders in aviation safety, regardless of what continent we inhabit.

We look forward to more programs like SSFA that will advance international collaboration on aviation safety issues. I’m confident that new safety ambassadors will follow in the footsteps of those who participated in the SSFA program, and I look forward to working with the pioneers who participate in these programs going forward.

For our blogs on the other NTSB SSFA symposia in South Africa and Kenya, please see links below:

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/ntsb-supports-safe-skies-for-africa-initiative/

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/another-step-toward-safer-skies-in-africa/

 

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