CONNECTIVITY is crucial for the global economy. Air does it the best, and nowhere is that more evident than in Africa. Aviation supports 6,7-million jobs in Africa, with a significant proportion of those in hi-tech and advanced skills work. The industry stimulates a $67,8bn contribution to Africa's gross domestic product. Aviation facilitates tourism and business services, while air freight is crucial for the success of African organic produce and supporting a growing manufacturing base.
Air transport expansion reflects this increasing importance to the economy. The latest air traffic growth forecast for Africa is 4,2% this year, compared with 3,5% for the rest of the world. This is helping to facilitate growth in the African economy, which is also set to outpace the global average.
African governments have much to gain from pursuing growth and connectivity. Improved safety is absolutely central to that goal. Despite the many improvements seen with African aviation safety in recent years, the two tragic accidents that occurred in Accra and Lagos last month are sobering reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. Statistics show that, on average last year, there was one accident for every 305000 flights on western-built jets in Africa. That is nine times the global average. That is unacceptable. It is time for governments and industry to implement a strategic plan to make flying in Africa as safe as anywhere else.
African air transport accidents between 2006 and 2010 were characterised by runway excursions (that is, overruns or running off the sides of runways), controlled flight into terrain, and loss of control. Joint analysis of these accidents by the International Air Transport Association (Iata) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) identified insufficient regulatory oversight and the absence of safety management systems as major contributory factors.
To address these, Iata, ICAO and many of the leading aviation stakeholders and regulatory organisations met in Johannesburg recently, where they committed to the Africa Strategic Improvement Action Plan to tackle safety deficiencies and improve regulatory oversight of civil aviation. This plan became part of the Abuja Declaration on Aviation Safety in Africa, which was endorsed by the African Union's ministerial meeting on aviation safety on Friday.
The Abuja declaration has a target to bring the African accident rate in line with the global average by 2015, and an action plan to establish and strengthen civil aviation authorities with full autonomy and the resources to perform effective safety oversight; implement safety management systems for states and all service providers; certify all international aerodromes; and require all African airlines to obtain an Iata operational safety audit (IOSA), which includes implementation of flight data analysis.
Global standards are the key. Governments must effectively regulate them. And airlines need to operate using them.
Evidence already shows global standards can make a difference in African aviation. IOSA is a requirement for all Iata member airlines. It is an open programme, not an exclusive club.
The safety performance of the African carriers on the IOSA registry was in line with the global IOSA average. Wider adoption of IOSA across Africa was a key part of the discussions in Abuja. In fact, requiring all African airlines to obtain IOSA is an effective "off-the-shelf" solution to enhance regulatory capability for resource-scarce governments.
Over the years there have been many initiatives to improve African air safety. While progress has been made, the problem has not been solved.
This time could be different. The eyes of the world are on the continent's economic expansion.
It is a great opportunity to co-opt that into support - technical and financial - for connectivity that underpins economic ties. But that will happen only if there is a solid commitment on the part of African governments at the highest levels. Everyone knows what needs to be done. Now we need tangible signs from African governments of a strong and comprehensive follow-up programme.
The aviation industry is determined and eager to work with all governments and stakeholders in Africa to deliver the highest safety standards.
Africa is poised for an amazing decade of growth and opportunity, with aviation at its core - let us be sure that this chance is not missed.
. Tyler is the director-general of Iata.