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African airlines must continue to prioritise safety

African airlines must continue to prioritise safety

The tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March raises questions about airline safety around the world, but the improving record of African airlines in recent years means their customers are right to have confidence in them.

On 10 March, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed just after takeoff from Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport en route to Nairobi.

One hundred and fifty-seven passengers and crew lost their lives. 

As in the aftermath of any major air tragedy, the accident will naturally raise questions among concerned passengers about airline safety in Africa and around the world.  

Questions are being asked about the reliability of the Boeing 737 Max, the US-designed aircraft series that was involved in the accident and the earlier loss of Indonesia’s Lion Air Flight 610, which crashed into the Java Sea on 29 October 2018 with the loss of 189 lives.

The model has been grounded around the world following the accident, and the release of the black box data on Thursday, revealed even more about the causes of the demise of Flight 302.

For operator Ethiopian Airlines, which has risen to become one of the most successful and well-respected carriers in the African aviation market, the disaster is a significant setback.

In recent years, the airline has positioned itself as a global player, expanding its African and global route network and heavily investing in its hub airport of Bole.

The airline carried 10.6m passengers last year, reaches 119 international destinations and operates a fleet of over 111 planes.

Net profit in the 2017/18 financial year rose to $233m. 

For many, the carrier is a proud symbol of Ethiopia’s economic regeneration and its immense future promise as an engine of African prosperity.

Regardless of the cause of the crash, having its name and reputation linked to a disaster poses a challenge for an airline that has worked hard to project an image of safety, reliability and success.

Improved record

Yet it should not be forgotten that African airline safety has improved in recent years.

Prior to the accident, data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed that for a third consecutive year in 2018, airlines in sub-Saharan Africa experienced zero jet hull losses and zero fatalities in jet operations.

The all-accident rate was 2.71 (measured in accidents per million flights), a significant improvement over the rate of 6.80 for the previous five years.

Africa was the only region to see a decline in the all-accident rate compared to 2017. 

Air travel is increasingly popular on the continent, with passenger numbers up 6.6% to 88.5m in 2018, according to the IATA.

If enacted, ambitious “open skies” initiatives to liberalise air travel will enable further growth.

As long as Africa’s airlines continue to prioritise safety in the wake of this tragedy, there is no reason that the continent’s travellers should not feel confident in their resurgent industry.

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