Aviation safety in shambles

11 October 2018 | Transport

International Civil Aviation Organisation ICAO officials have made it clear that as things stand, the Namibian aviation industry in general, and not just Hosea Kutako International Airport, fails to meet international safety standards.

They say a list of concerns was repeatedly submitted, but over the years there has been no progress or action from the Namibia Airports Company (NAC) and government agencies such as immigration control and the police, who are managing the passenger screening at the airport.

An emergency cabinet meeting was called on Tuesday to discuss the matter and what action needs to be taken. Should Namibia fail to meet international aviation safety standards it would be detrimental to the country, and particularly the tourism industry, as its airspace would be regarded as unsafe.

This was revealed during an urgent high-level meeting organised by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations (Fenata) after serious concerns were raised that Hosea Kutako may fail an international security audit. Tuesday's meeting was attended by representatives of the tourism industry, government officials and ICAO experts. ICAO will conduct a security audit at Hosea Kutako in November.

According to a statement issued by the chairman of Fenata, Bernd Schneider, and co-signed by AOPA, the dire situation Namibia finds itself in can be blamed on the NAC's lack of action over the years.

Schneider said even though all efforts were made to ensure the participation of the NCA and Air Namibia at the meeting, neither was present.

Schneider explained that the ICAO officials visited Namibia to ensure that the country complies with international aviation safety and security standards.

“Failure to comply with these standards will result in the Namibian airspace being deemed unsafe for international travel. The direct and immediate consequence of such a finding is that international airlines such as Qatar airways or KLM will no longer fly to Namibia and at the same time the national airline in all likelihood will be prohibited to fly to international destinations,” the statement reads.

According to Schneider ICAO officials made it clear at the meeting that Namibia in general, and not only the airport, would fail the required safety standards.

Many of the existing shortcomings were highlighted during the last audit three years ago, when Hosea Kutako Airport was downgraded because of concerns about its firefighting capacity.

Schneider says many of the concerns have not been addressed since then, even though clear guidelines were given on how to ensure compliance with international aviation safety standards and regulations.

“The complete failure to address the concerns raised and the total inaction, especially from the NAC, has prompted ICAO officials to set a deadline as to when clear progress has to be demonstrated.” According to Schneider failure to meet this deadline, which is set for the end of November, would result in a non-compliance report from ICAO officials.

“This will have catastrophic and far-reaching consequences not only for the tourism industry, but for the entire Namibian economy. Non-compliance will also have the effect that all airports in Namibia will be affected, not only Hosea Kutako International Airport.”

Schneider says the ICAO officials made it clear that aviation safety should not be a once-off effort to pass an upcoming audit, but needs to be continuous.

On the positive side, the ICAO officials mentioned that many of the concerns raised can be easily rectified.

According to him the deadline implies that clear and visible progress must be made to ensure aviation safety in the long term. He says many of the shortcomings cannot be fixed within a couple of weeks, but it would be seen as a clear sign of commitment to aviation safety if some action was taken before the deadline.

“This is something that has not happened in the last few years,” he points out.

Schneider says upon receiving the news of the possibly disastrous outcome of the upcoming safety audit, Fenata last week made the government aware of the looming crisis.

This resulted in immediate action, with the cabinet discussing the matter at an emergency meeting on Tuesday.

“We call on the NAC to immediately and without delay address the well-documented concerns and recommendations by the ICAO experts and to ensure that Namibia remains accessible to and from international destinations,” Schneider says.

He says the Namibian tourism sector, represented by Fenata and AOPA, will work closely with the government to avert this looming crisis.

“We will continue to act as watchdogs and will act immediately and decisively to ensure that Namibians as well as any visitors to Namibia can rely on the fact that Namibia adheres to and complies with general safety and security standards at the highest level and remains a generally safe destination.”

The NAC is holding an airport security exercise today at Hosea Kutako. This exercise will involve various agencies such as the airlines, the police and several emergency services.


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