AFRICA's air safety record, the world's worst, is under scrutiny again after accidents in Nigeria and Kenya earlier this month.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) is due to meet with African heads of state in Abuja next month to adopt an improvement action plan.

Iata's latest safety statistics for last year show a dramatic improvement in Africa's safety performance, with accident rates falling 61% to 6,17 accidents per million departures - sharply down from the 15,68 per million in 2010.

Even with the most recent accident in Nigeria, in which more than 153 people were killed, the safety performance improved over last year, Gunther Matschnigg, Iata's senior vice-president for safety, operations and infrastructure, said in an interview this week.

There is growing recognition among African states that economic development depends, among other things, on a reliable and safe airline industry as travellers did not relish the prospect of travelling with airline companies that were unsafe.

"There is momentum on the issue now and we have to act. T hese are not the first actions we are taking in Africa, there have been improvements already," he said.

In Nigeria at least 12 airlines have been shut down because of their poor safety records, Mr Matschnigg said. T his action reflected political will in that country to improve the image and performance of the sector on the continent.

A new five-part programme was adopted by delegates at an Iata-sponsored meeting in Johannesburg last month, which focused on improving the safety of the industry in Africa. Next month in Abuja, Nigeria, this new programme will be presented by the organisation to heads of state and their transport ministers to rally political support.

"We had a really good meeting in Johannesburg with many people from the industry, government people and industry institutions, and they recognise the problems with safety and are very eager to do something to improve the industry. T hey want things to be better and safer," Mr Matschnigg said.

The highest priority under the new programme was providing support to African governments to "drive more robust safety oversight". According to the safety report, oversight in Africa was the greatest contributing factor to poor safety performances.

Second on the programme agenda was addressing causal factors, including runway excursions, which is the most common accident-type in Africa. Mr Matschnigg described this as when an aircraft veers off the runway either upon arrival or departure.

There were more than 1000 airlines in Africa, with Nigeria being home to about 260 airlines, even though only 150 or the airlines seem to be active.

Nigeria's safety record was virtually unblemished between 2007 and last year when there was only one accident recorded and it did not result in a hull loss, Mr Matschnigg said. The recent crash was the worst civilian air disaster in Africa's top oil producer since January 22 1973, when an aircraft carrying 176 passengers and crew went down in the northern city of Kano, killing all on board.

It was the fourth accident in the country in 10 years that claimed the lives of more than 100 people.

The country with the most airline safety concerns was the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 20% of all of Africa's accidents take place, Mr Matschnigg said.

With Bloomberg