Address: DG of Transport on aviation safety


Keynote address at the South African Civil Aviation Authority fifth Aviation Safety seminar by Mr George Mahlalela Director–General at the Department of Transport, Kempton Park

19 Oct 2011

Programme Director,

The Acting Director of Civil Aviation, Mr Zakhele Thwala;

Acting Executive Manager: Accident and Incident Investigation: CAA: Mr Obert Chakarisa

Mr Neil de Lange

Representative from the CSIR: General Des Barker

Representative from the Forster Aero International: Mr Johan Lottering

Distinguished Guests

Members of the media;

Ladies and gentlemen

Programme director, aviation safety has become a very pertinent and important topic in the Transport industry. The reason why we are having this Aviation Safety Seminar is that air travel is not immune to fatal accidents just like accidents in other modes of transport.

This week the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for a new partnership between government and the aviation industry to maximise the social and economic benefits that a safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible aviation industry can deliver.

Just to take you back a bit on 27 to 29 July this year, we hosted the Third Pan African Aviation Training Coordination Conference in Cape Town under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Amongst other issues the Conference deliberated on the promotion of a common African aviation training accreditation system recognised around the world and harmonisation and standardisation of training programmes throughout Africa.

The conference also assessed progress made in the development of the Association of Training Organisations, Centres of Excellence, Training Advisory Board and Regional Training Policy and requirements and improvement of affordable, accessible and quality training programmes.

Yesterday we opened the 3D Simulator at the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) Training Academy. Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele highlighted that the aviation industry’s existence might be threatened if the skills that are needed in this sector are not identified and developed in time. This is critical so that the relevant training is located within the framework of the demanding and technically advanced areas.

In addition, last week there was an Airlines Association of Southern Africa Annual General Meeting and Conference which also deliberated on key issues in the aviation industry to make it viable and sustainable. These cascading aviation events in less than 6 months clearly show the importance given to the aviation industry and its contribution to social and economic growth.

Last year alone, 21 million people and 240 000 tonnes of freight travelled to, from and within South Africa. Aviation is a critical strategic component of the South African economy and indeed the economies of all states in Southern Africa. Positive policies and strategies are needed to drive aviation’s significant economic benefits.

Ladies and gentlemen there are three valuable elements that are needed for strengthening the foundations of a sustainable aviation industry and these are:

Improving safety and security

Providing cost-efficient infrastructure

Furthering environmental responsibility

South Africa and Africa as a region must continue to put in place mechanisms that enable the aviation industry to improve without incurring huge losses. IATA figures on global and Africa’s aviation safety standards do not paint a better picture.

The figures and facts include the following:

The Continent’s safety record was 12 times worse than the global average

World-class safety is possible in Africa

Global airline profits will fall to $4.9 billion in 2012 which is a margin of just 0.8 present

African airlines will be the only region in the red, with a loss of $100 million

A strong partnership between government and industry across Southern Africa is needed to provide a solid foundation for success

Twenty – four sub-Saharan African airlines are on the IATA Operational Safety Audit registry

IATA so far provided flight data analysis to nine airlines who agreed to make use of it, resulting in a 65% reduction in deviations from ideal flight trajectories

Aviation plays an important role in modern life. This industry is at the heart of global trade and economic growth. Without aviation, tourism, for example, would be a sluggish industry. Moreover, we cannot talk about globalisation without referring to aviation as well as the information and communications technology sectors.

I am also doubtful that we would be talking about globalisation in the same way as we do today, had aviation not been in the picture. I am sure you would agree that the economic and social benefits of aviation are countless. You would most likely agree that air travel will continue to be a dominant mode of transport for generations to come.

As the aviation industry continues to grow; and as is the case in most instances, the very same growth is accompanied by risk. No one would acknowledge this fact better than you. We all know that since the first flight more than 100 years ago, each time an aircraft takes to the skies there is a risk attached to that flight. However, we can also be consoled by the fact that with technological advancements, the risk has been reduced significantly. Regardless, we have to live with the fact that accidents do happen every now and then.

Having said that, I hasten to acknowledge that one death as a result of an accident is indeed one too many. That is why we are gathered here today; to find practical means to prevent accidents.

International standards

One of the practical steps towards avoiding accidents is regulation and standardised practice. This fact was acknowledged as far back as 1944 when the Chicago Convention was signed. That formed the basis for the formation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, or ICAO in short.

ICAO deals with the principles and techniques of international air navigation and fosters the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth. Moreover, ICAO, through its Council, adopts standards and recommended practices concerning all aspects of civil aviation. As you would know, South Africa is a signatory to the 1944 Chicago Convention and as such abides by the international rules as set out by ICAO.

Year after year and audit after audit, South Africa has found to be conforming to these international standards. It thus comes as no surprise that South Africa is a Council member of ICAO. That speaks volumes about what our peers think of our safety standards and possible contribution to global aviation’s safety and security standards.

It is through the application of these standards that we have an accident rate that is regarded as lower in terms of global comparisons. However, I share the view that more can be done and we can possibly half the rate by 2014.

Having said that though, I will be quick to point out that rules alone will not get us there fast enough. As has been proven year after year, the accident trend seems to suggest that human factor is the primary cause of accidents. We thus have to look into changing attitudes, as regulations alone are clearly inadequate.

Regional cooperation

Compared to other continents, Africa’s safety record still leaves much to be desired. Be that as it may, I am encouraged by the fact that efforts at the highest level, especially amongst the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, are made in order to change the status quo.

In this regard, SADC member states have come together to form the COSCAP-SADC Project (the full name is Cooperative Development of Operational Safety and Continuing Airworthiness Project).

In simple terms, this is an ICAO initiative that is intended to assist regional economic communities like SADC to harmonise their regulatory frameworks by, among others, having synchronised civil aviation statutes, regulations, procedures and technical standards as well as a pool of technical safety experts.

The COSCAP-SADC Project is a precursor to the establishment of the SADC’s regional safety oversight organisation that will be called the SADC Safety Oversight Organisation.

The objectives of the Safety Oversight Organisation will be, among others, to compliment the oversight capacity of SADC member states in instances where there are some shortfalls in their respective oversight functions. South Africa continues to play an instrumental role in the COSCAP-SADC Project.

As governments we are confident that this initiative will make significant inroads in terms of ensuring higher levels of aviation safety and security.

Transformation of the aviation industry

On the local front, there are some challenges that we need to tackle head-on. It is a fact that whilst the local aviation industry continues to grow; it has however been too slow to transform. The challenge has been the realisation of the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Transport Charter, which also applies to aviation. In our varied endeavours to grow the industry, we have to do so whilst mindful of the need to transform and bring the required change into the industry. I am not going to go into details but as you know transformation comes in many ways, i.e. be it in terms of personnel, procurement, ownership and so forth.

What is encouraging though is the fact that the relentless entrepreneurship spirit of South African has come to the fore. The envisaged SANTACO Airlines is a good example of such relentless spirit of entrepreneurship. Most importantly it is one step towards bringing about transformation in the industry.

Until SANTACO Airlines’ Test Flight on 16 September 2011, between Lanseria Airport and Bisho, many of our people would not have considered flying as an option.

In most communities, flying is unfortunately seen by many as the privilege of a select few. If this concept ultimately takes off, there will be a new market created instead of jostling in an already crowded market, as is the case in other parts of the world.

I must admit that if you were an entrepreneur and had to mention this and the entire concept of low-cost flying about 15 years ago, you ran the risk of landing in a mental care facility – courtesy of your colleagues, friends and loved ones. However, thank goodness that some brave entrepreneurs did not listen to naysayers and went on to create a market that has proved its relevance the world over.

For us the real challenge that is left is to ensure total integration of the transport system. Moreover, the challenge for government, regulating authorities and operators is to ensure consistent safety and reliability. I have no doubt that together we can find solutions to all these challenges. Your attendance here today speaks volumes about your commitment to the ideal.

Environmental impact

On a global level, our biggest challenge, which I hope the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will embrace, is to help minimise the impact of aviation activities on the environment. As much as we are thrilled by and are supportive of technological developments in general and the growth of the aviation industry, we cannot turn a blind eye to the effect of noise, emissions and other environmental impact issues.

Whilst the debate rages on about the emissions taxes and other forms of penalties; we have to quickly find other ways that will ensure that the aviation industry has minimal impact on the environment.

From 28 November until 9 December 2011, South Africa will be hosting the United Nations’ annual Conference of the Parties on Climate Change. It is thus hoped that the conference will make headway in terms of international efforts aimed at addressing the challenges of climate change. Tricky as it is, we hope that the discussions and subsequent agreements do not become a hindrance to the development of industries; especially given the fact that the transport sector is reportedly one of the fastest growing emitters of carbon emissions in South Africa.

Notwithstanding, focussing on the transport sector alone would not eliminate high carbon emissions. It will be worthwhile to consider important factors such as developing compact, sustainable cities and promoting residence and workplace proximity which will play a key role in improving the viability of public transport, hence lowering South Africa’s carbon emissions.

I am confident that as a collective we agree that climate impact challenges need our intervention sooner than later. As a collective, I believe we would find smarter solutions to the climate change predicament.


As we ponder on solutions, I would like to point out that it is not all doom and gloom in terms of the aviation sector. In fact on behalf of government, I would like to applaud you for a job well done during the hosting of the World Cup.

It is an amazing feat that for a month, there were no major aviation incidents bar the forced but successful landing at Lanseria Airport. Other than that, I would say give yourselves a pat on the back for a great showing; as when the world talks about a successful 2010 FIFA World Cup, they are including the fact that there were no aviation accidents to mar the soccer extravaganza.

Going forward, I would urge you to use that excellent time in our lives as an indication that through commitment and extra effort a 100% safety record is possible. As I have indicated earlier, we cannot shy away from the fact that statistics indicate that human error is a dominant causal factor. That means we have to be sincere with ourselves and acknowledge that there are some shortcomings that we have to address.

Through industry interaction forums under the auspices of the CAA, I am sure that practical solutions will be found. Moreover, as operational leaders and individuals we can make a difference in encouraging attitudinal changes to realities associated with safety. In addition, perhaps it is a perfect time to ensure that the attitudes and characters of new entrants and younger personnel are moulded correctly and as early as they enter the industry.

I thus concur that if all of us start working together as a collective we can reduce the accident and incident rate by half in two years’ time. It all starts with you as an individual!

I thank you!

Issued by: Department of Transport
19 Oct 2011