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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Are Africa's skies safe enough?
Il-76 Ilyushin transport plane
The exact number of people who died in last week's plane crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo will probably never be known.

Dozens of passengers were sucked out of an old Soviet Ilyushin cargo plane when its back doors flew open after it took off from the capital, Kinshasha.

Africa's skies are full of rickety old planes, many from the former Soviet Union and originally designed for cargo. Maintenance is often shambolic, and passenger safety is not a priority.

Are Africa's skies safe enough? How can the resource-stretched continent do more to improve air safety? Have you had personal experience of unsafe air travel in Africa?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

Last year I flew with Ethiopian Airways on a domestic flight and my impression was little different to when I've flown around Europe. Ethiopia may be the world 4th poorest nation but having the most successful African airline does not hinder its efforts to feed its people. They have a fantastic safety record and as for security I've never known such sensitive metal detectors!
Dave, England

There is always room for improvement
Eric Gumbo, Zimbabwe
African skies are the safest with African airlines having one of the highest safety records. But of course, there is always room for improvement.
Eric Gumbo, Zimbabwe

I don't think your average African nation should be operating air transportation to begin with. Their first priority should be clean water and bringing their healthcare up to par. Then, let them worry about operating complex and potentially dangerous vehicles.
Matt, US

Matt's comment is abhorrent to say the least! How can he be so ignorant to suggest that we Africans should stop operating planes? When the west began experimenting with aviation they didn't have it perfect the first time. Come on guys give Africans a break! Your time is much better spent trying to find solutions; if you have none then kindly leave us alone!
Gordon, Kenya

Matt's comments make me feel very sorry for most Americans for they think that Africa is a bush. Come on guys it's high time you recognise that Africans are as civilised as anyone else in the world, we have good medical doctors, pilots, engineers, you name it. Matt, it is high time you travelled and saw for yourself that African skies are much safer than you think.
Charles, Zimbabwe

Africa has safe skies and they take all the appropriate action to make sure they stay that way
Steve, USA
First off, it is sad to hear this incident happened and lives were lost, but the world is so fast to jump on African nations for every little thing. I think this question should not even be asked. If so then one might ask if USA's skies are safe after 9/11. More people are afraid to get on a plane and fly even short distances so to make my point I think Africa has safe skies and they take all the appropriate action to make sure they stay that way.
Steve, USA

Having lived in Africa for ten years and taken a good number of flights on different African airlines, there is no doubt in my mind that they are capable of competing with any Western airline company.
Kurt Fabri, USA/Austria

Aviation by nature is a dangerous business. Just because it happened on African skies doesn't mean that it is due to lack of knowledge or expertise. Born from an African aviator father and grown in an aviation minded surrounding, I can assure you that one of the best and finest aviators are found in Africa.
Besufekad Alemayehu, Boston, USA

I think that this accident is the mirror of our life in Africa. I remember some years ago our country didn't know this kind of accident because safety was our goal. Think about "air Zaire "- this company didn't have an accident until its failure, why? Our economic level was good.
Serge Betomvuko, DR-Congo

The root of the problem concerning safety is largely with the crews themselves
Tom, UK
Having lived in Angola and flying often to the interior, the root of the problem concerning safety is largely with the crews themselves. I saw pilots turning up to flights wearing flip-flops and entire crews arriving at destinations at 7am and opening up the beers (sadly all Russians or Ukrainians). The airfields up country are littered with wreckages of crashed Antonovs largely caused as a result of overloading (both Cargo and people) and poor maintenance, both of which are the responsibility of the crews. Not all were like this, but too many were.
Tom, UK

There is nothing to indicate what happened is an African problem. The Western skies are no safer.
Dere, Canada

Several times a week at 4am an ear-splitting Ilyushin cargo plane flies over the built-up metropolis of Pretoria, to deliver aid to the DRC. Despite protests by residents that this is unacceptably noisy and exceptionally dangerous -- sometimes it seems as though the plane barely clears the surrounding hills -- this will probably persist until something horrendous happens.
Tracey, South Africa

Why are all "Soviet" or "Russian" aircraft deemed by the media to be "unsafe" and often "old". Tupolev and Illyushin have produced fine robust safe aircraft for many years. The problem is more to do with maintenance and the quality of crewing - and on this basis a Boeing or Airbus are as likely to be lost as a Russian type.
Andrew, UK

As long as countries especially in central African area are poor, there is no way for them to have modern up-to-date passenger planes. But old ones can also fly, it's all about maintenance. Africa has a great collection of older generation airplanes. I would fly them anytime, especially Russian.
Vesa, Finland

Most of the safe African planes are military ones because our governments give priority to the army and not to the old passenger planes.
Kondwani Mpahuwa, Malawi

African leaders should not buy planes from Europe or Asia that are very old and unworthy to fly
Rev. Paul Bala Samura, Sierra Leone/Lagos, Nigeria
The plane that crashed in the DRC was first flown in 1972 and perhaps it hasn't had good maintenance for a long time. Planes of this type should be closely monitored. For instance, after the crash in Nigeria that killed a minister, the president placed a ban on all planes over twenty years old. This has minimized air disasters in the country.

African leaders should not buy planes from Europe or Asia that are very old and unworthy to fly. Life is more important and thus must be secured in all modes of transportation.
Rev. Paul Bala Samura, Sierra Leone/Lagos, Nigeria

African skies can be safe if and only if GREED is eliminated or at least curtailed in the sale of old and rickety planes, both on the side of the western world who try to have their cakes even after they have eaten them by selling old planes to Africa rather than recycle them and on the side of corrupt and unscrupulous Africans who have compromised safety for monetary benefits.
Oluranti Oyeneye, The Gambia

It's as if only in Africa that we have plane crashes. Plane crashes happen all over the world and we have seen worse accidents elsewhere than in Africa.
Mabvuto Nkangala, Malawi

Africa is not a country. It is a continent. Being specific would be more objective than generalisation. Other countries in Africa are yet to know of any plane crash. And the skies are safe - it's the planes.
Mataka Mposa, UK

The only way African skies can be safe is if the so called developed countries stop selling worn out aircrafts to Africa.
Ayodeji Owolabi, USA / Nigeria

Accidents are bound to happen anywhere in the world. We have seen instances where hundreds of people perish in air travels in the west and other parts of the world. Never has the question been asked whether their skies are safe or not.
Peter Kenah, England

Not all African air carriers are the same
Brian, Kenya
Air carriers reflect their owners, the investments they make, and the markets they serve. Would I want to fly on an old IL 76? Probably not. But why should I have a problem with a modern 757 with a European investment partner? Not all African air carriers are the same.
Brian, Kenya

It is all too often that people take our ability to fly safely for granted. The cost and complexity of maintaining a plane are immense. If only our cars could be so reliable. The African economy does not have the benefit of being so robust as many Western countries, and it is a credit to all responsible parties that there aren't more incidents.
Kimo, USA

This is painting every country in the continent with the same brush. There are a lot of airlines with excellent track records and some are even profitable i.e. Ethiopian Airlines.
Melkam, USA

The problem with the recent air accident in the DR Congo is that the plane was chartered from a Ukrainian company and staffed with Ukrainian crew. This accident would have happened anywhere the plane was. It just so happened that it was in African skies when the accident occurred. Safety truly starts with the owners and operators of the aircraft.
Evan Acs, Canada

Africa's skies will never be safe from accidents in the public transportation but they will remain safe for military fighting jets.
Khaled, Eritrea

Planes still remain the safest way to travel, no matter. Maybe we should ask the EU to stop funding deadly highways everywhere in Africa. I still would prefer flying a good old Illyushin than taking a bus or a ferry in the DRC.
Kim Gjerstad, DR Congo

Up to this day the journey remains a nightmare in my thoughts
Christiana, UK
I was travelling from Freetown to Conakry at the peak of the civil war in Sierra Leone in one of these Soviet-style planes. Up to this day the journey remains a nightmare in my thoughts. Loud and irritating noise at one point, then cloudy mist at another where no-one could see each other except for those you share a seat with. When we landed I breathed a big sigh of relief as I saw engineers rush to the plane which tells me something was definitely wrong with the plane.
Christiana, UK

Like all places, it depends where you are. Airlines in South Africa have an excellent safety record, although teams of wild horses would not drag me onto some of the central and north African carriers.
Colin Peckham, UK/ South Africa

Safety in Africa is always compromised. If the African governments had strict policies that would make transportation safe, the question would be could the operators afford the cost of implementing the safety rule? In Africa profit comes before safety. Unless that changes, transportation will continue to claim lives in Africa.
Olabode, UK

What mode of transportation IS safe in Africa? Between obsolete planes, overcrowded ferries and decrepit four-wheel vehicles, quite possibly the only safe way to move around Africa is by animal or using one's own two feet. Unfortunately, whenever you have a poor country (or continent) attempting to modernise, safety is a secondary issue.
Marcella, USA




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