One of the more intrinsic problems of air safety in Africa is the use of older planes, and the lack of proper maintenance and repairs on these planes that more times than not have duct tape used in some repairs. Air safety in Africa depends upon the flight path of the plane, and the training and efficiency of the air traffic controllers. Also, in Africa there is an abundance of birds, and they can bring a plane down, even well maintained and fairly new jets, as recently witnessed in the Hudson river Airbus A320 crash in New York city.
When airline deregulation came into the picture in Africa in the 1990’s, small airlines popped up, using extremely inexpensive aircraft with minimal maintenance and repair facilities. Suddenly, old, decommissioned aircraft from the Soviet Union were being leased or purchased, and flown without being inspected first. One of the more dangerous problems with deregulation, aside from the mechanical condition of the planes, was that the pilots rarely spoke English, which is the international language for air traffic controllers.
Flying in a country that is notorious for warlords and civil unrest, many aircraft fly around the more dangerous areas, but many also take their chances, in order to save on costly aviation fuel. When flying over areas that are under warlord control, many people will fire guns, grenade launchers and anti-aircraft missiles at any planes that cross over their territories. They then congregate on the flight’s crash site, and steal whatever may be needed at their camps, or could be traded or sold on the black market. People are checked to see where they come from, and many nationals from industrialized nations are kept for ransom demands.
One of the benefits of having money is the ability to fly on well maintained and fairly new aircraft, which can incrementally increase your safety. However, Africa has a great majority of poor people, many living in squalor, who would never be able to fly on a government regulated aircraft. This is where budget aircraft come into the picture for the poor travellers, and arriving safely at your destination is a crap shoot at best. Many of these aircraft do not even file flight routes with the major airports, making them dangers to other aircraft as well.
Overcrowding is a major safety concern with flights that originate in Africa, and when the people on the flights start getting up and walking around, congregating in large groups on one side of the plane, the pilots have a lot more problems to deal with than an airplane that should not be in the skies in the first place. While talking of pilots, it would be nice if all of the pilots flying in Africa were tested annually, stayed awake and sober for the entire flight, and had their licenses in order.
When airlines sell standing only tickets to get more people on a plane, and sell tickets for animals as well, and have no seat belts for the people lucky enough to have a seat, it spells a recipe for disaster. Many of the aircraft crashes in Africa are blamed on overcrowding, weight shifting and pilot error. If the pilots are unlucky enough to survive the crash, they may even be jailed for life, or executed.
However, flying on major airlines that have good maintenance and safety records, like British Airways, American Airlines, Air Canada and others will greatly increase your safety. Knowing that the aircraft you are flying in has strict passenger number rules, as well as complete safety protocols, you can fly with confidence, but accidents do still happen. It’s just whether or not the aircraft you are flying on has a chance of making a perfect crash landing or not that makes this aspect more or less stressful.
Fly safely. Fly informed.