By Paul Ndiho
May 15, 2012
The Democratic Republic of Congo has few passable roads traversing the country, forcing much of the population to rely on ill-maintained planes. But the central African country has one of the worst air safety records in the world, with notoriously lax safety regulations. In order to restore the confidence of its passengers and investors, the airline Fly Congo has introduced a new fleet of airliners and promised to tighten safety procedures.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) says that the Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the world’s worst records for aviation accidents. The country rates poorly in overall aviation safety.
But earlier this month, an airline whose license had been revoked in the wake of a July 2011 crash that killed 74 people, resumed operations. Fly Congo, known previously as Hewa Bora, opened a new Kinshasa-Kisangani-Goma route as part of its effort to revamp and rebrand the airline.
Passengers on board one of the relaunched airline’s first flights are hopeful safety problems are a thing of the past.
“Sometimes it’s a purely technical problem. I cannot confirm , but I am pretty certain that following past incidents of plane crashes, I think that company bosses will now try to improve the airlines quality, because having planes crashes all the time does not help anyone.”
DRC is Africa’s second-largest country, and one of the most inaccessible countries on the continent. Its dense forests, rivers and mountainous terrain make ground transport problematic, leaving aviation as the only option for fast and efficient travel. Experts say aviation oversight, in spite of the periodic government statements following such disasters, has remained patchy at best. They say none of the promised fundamental overhauls has taken place, leaving in operation “flying coffins,” as the Soviet-era planes are often dubbed in Congo and other countries in Africa. Both airline and ground infrastructure leave much to be desired in terms of international safety standards.
“I think that the current infrastructures at many of the country’s airport’s control towers are inadequate, but they are working on it. We are closely following that in the news. They (the authorities) are working towards improving the infrastructure, so that we can have more reliable communication in
United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) classifies Congo as non-compliant with standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
As a result, Congolese airlines are banned from flying within the European Union airspace. Since records began in 1950s, there have been 65 fatal accidents in DRC, with 878 fatalities. Seven of the incidents took place in the last two years.
Goma, where another Hewa Bora crash killed 40 in 2008, was chosen as a site for the launch event, which gathered local politicians and airline officials.
Gedeon Mangolopa, Goma’s airport director, says he hopes customer confidence will return once the international standards of the airline and the airport are confirmed.
“We estimate that the plan that we are going to put forward will lead to the airport of Goma being able to once again operate to international standards. We ask the people to respect the rules, and to not believe that we are trying to push or manhandle them, but rather that we are trying to implement international regulations, so that we can attract other airline companies,”
To restore confidence and increase the safety of the airline, Fly Congo undertook to destroy six of Hewa Bora’s airplanes and replace them with newer fleet. The aircrafts are being scrapped for parts.
“At the moment, these are planes that can no longer be used for public transport, so we have to turn to planes that are more economical and which are newer.”
The airline is planning to open a new international route between Kinshasa and Johannesburg, South Africa later in the year.