Malaysia Airlines Mystery: A Wake Up call for African Air Safety

Published on 25th March 2014

The African Executive sends sympathies to Malaysia, China and countries whose nationals were on board the Malaysian Airline flight. As the world ponders over the mystery of the plane which went missing with 239 people on board on March 8, it is an opportune time for Africa to rethink its air safety. Apart from the recent paradox where an Ethiopian pilot ‘hijacked’ the plane he was flying, Africa posts  the world's highest rate of fatal commercial aviation accidents. With just 3% of global air traffic, African crashes accounted for roughly 20% of the 29 accidents and 265 fatalities world-wide involving passenger and cargo planes designed to carry the equivalent of at least 14 passengers in 2013. The continent’s crash rates run roughly 20 times higher than the global average.

According to the World Travel Monitor, outbound travel in Africa has grown in a 6-9% range in recent years as countries in Africa develop their economies and the number of people with sufficient disposable income to travel increases. Nevertheless, this outbound travel remains very small and represents only about 4% of total worldwide outbound travel. On the other hand, some 53 million international visitors travelled to Africa in 2012, reaching a new record level, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). This 6% improvement on the 2011 figure was attributed to a 9% recovery in North Africa arrivals and the continued growth of sub-Saharan destinations, which grew by 5%. The UNWTO has predicted a further 4-6% rise in international arrivals.

With the world becoming rapidly interconnected and the current period being touted as Africa’s Century, there is need for the continent to up its game and address the air safety issues if it has to gain investor confidence, see a majority of its residents fly out to strike deals and attract high tourist volumes. All this calls for a robust and watertight air travel system that observes high standards and makes good use of the latest communication and surveillance equipment.   Ignoring this will negate the gains the continent is making.

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