Sunday, January 22, 2012

Disaster looms in Tanzania skies over unqualified pilots, says report

Grave disaster looms in Tanzania’s skies, in the wake of revelations that the local airline industry is progressively employing unqualified pilots.

The air accident investigation unit of the Ministry of Transport attributes three of 12 aircraft accidents that occurred last year to the ineptitude of inexperienced pilots.

The pilots, according to the ministry’s annual report, were allowed to venture into the skies despite several shortcomings, including blatant disregard for safety and operational guidelines. The report, signed by the deputy chief inspector of air accidents, Mr J. Nyamwihura, said while last year was the safest in the aviation sector in the last five years, the rate of accidents involving unqualified personnel was alarming.

“Acts of unqualified pilots taking command of aircraft, some of this commercial, appears to be on the rise,” the report released over a week ago, reads in part.

The report says the main reason for the “unqualified pilot accidents” is the growing shortage of pilots in the aviation industry. “This shortage is worldwide but appears to be particularly acute in the country because the government has not trained pilots for two decades,” the reports says.

However, when reached for comment, top officials at the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA), the national industry overseer organ, played down the findings.

They were jittery over accusations of insufficient oversight inspection directed at the authority by the ministry, terming them as “misdirected and dangerous”.

TCAA director-general Fadhili Manongi told The Citizen, a sister paper of Daily Monitor, in an interview that the report unfairly piles individual pilot error and operator misdemeanor to the authority.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that only qualified and licensed pilots take command of aircrafts and I can assure you that not a single unqualified pilot has been licensed. But that does not mean we have the capacity to man every operator’s office and each plane taking off to monitor their conduct”.

Mr Manongi said TCAA does not only counter-check with licensing authorities of foreign pilots serving in the country but also deploys inspectors to respective countries to personally examine records and aircraft maintenance facilities without failure.

“Laxity among operators and air crew is partly attributable to the inadequate level of safety oversight inspections. It is recommended that oversight inspections be increased particularly at airports, notably Julius Nyerere International Airport,” the report reads.

However, Mr Manongi said it is not only untrue but also impossible for a pilot to take off without filing a flight plan and gathering weather information. As for the flying hours, he said a pilot is required to complete at least 40 hours of flying in order to pass airmanship before he/she is awarded a Private Pilot License (PPL).

Mr Manongi allayed safety fears by declaring his authority one of the safest and most respected in Africa, arguing that the bureau’s competence has been tested and passed by notable international bodies whose credibility is beyond reproach.

“Interestingly, the very same last year whose events this particular report is based on is when we were certified by the International Standardization Organisation (ISO) number 9001:2008, after a long and thorough scrutiny of our operations,” he said.

He however acknowledged inadequate personnel as one of the challenges facing the authority. Of the seven minimum flight operation inspectors required, the authority has only 4 (57 per cent) and only seven airworthiness inspectors are available out of the required 10, which is equivalent to 70 per cent.
“That is why this year we are sending 10 pilots and 10 engineers for training abroad in a bid to curb the shortage of manpower,” he said.

On his part, the TCAA director of safety and regulations, Mr John Njawa, said Tanzania is much safer compared to other countries because its standards are set higher than most countries in Africa and the rest of the world.

 “We document even the minutest events and classify them as accidents because security is our absolute priority. In other countries, such small, non-fatal issues are regarded as mere incidents but not accidents. So, if we lower ourselves to other countries’ standards, then our ratings will be very impressive,” he said.


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