New Era (Windhoek)

4 August 2006

Namibia: Aviation - We Have Finger On the Pulse

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Training has always been considered as one of the essential means by which aviators achieve and maintain the safety, security and efficiency of the air transport system.

The Namibian Government has training close to its heart and has made it a priority to train as many Namibians as possible to meet the many challenges of the new millennium. The lack of qualified Namibians has always been a major stumbling block and, consequently, the Government has had to rely on outside expertise. For that reason, the Government has pursued the idea since 1991 of establishing a Flying Training School in Namibia, which it considered to be a very important project in the development of the aviation industry of the country.

The Government has realized and acknowledged that the future of the country's aviation industry and that of its airlines and its aviation infrastructure is primarily determined by the availability of suitably trained and qualified personnel. The Government has thus entered into an agreement with the former German company "Dornier International Logistics," now called "International Training Services" in assisting the Government in realizing its goal to establish an Aviation Training Centre in Keetmanshoop, known as the Namibian Aviation Training Academy.

By training Namibians locally not only improves cost effectiveness, but students will learn better and more effectively in their own cultural milieu. Graduates will be better prepared for the specific challenges that will face them once they enter the workforce. Consequently, the Government has invested a substantial amount of money and other resources in training. In addition, financial assistance will be made available to young upcoming pilots and engineers to undergo the necessary training. The importance of training and human factors in aviation cannot be over-emphasized. Every day new challenges arise. Technology in the aviation sector is the most advanced in the modern world and is changing by the day. Continuous training is therefore of utmost importance.

However, training should not only concentrate on the skills of each individual student, but also on the human factor interface. The interface deals primarily with the interchange of information between human and machine, and links the human to the system and to other components. The human factor is not only one of the major causes of many aircraft accidents, but security related incidents. It is for this reason that more and more emphasis is being given to training in human factors and the interface with machines. The quality of aviation training remains an important factor in this specialized field. Modern training development methodologies provide the means of ensuring that the requirements for training keep pace with the needs of the job. As procedures change, the process leaves an audit trail that allows a training developer to quickly and accurately update training materials to reflect these changes.

Candidates go through a vigorous selection process. These include amongst others a psychometric testing, which is an acceptable, standardized and reliable way in which individuals could be evaluated and their results are weighed against standardized norms.

Psychometric tests are used locally and internally to diagnose and evaluate all sorts of variables. These tests are to measure aptitudes.

Certain categories of personnel need special skills or aptitudes in order to perform specialized work. In order to be able to perform specialized work, specialized or high levels of specific aptitudes are needed. In the case of pilots, it is evident that the individual needs a good reasoning - numerical, two and three dimensional abilities, memory and fast reaction speed in order to perform the work successfully and safely.

Furthermore, candidates are evaluated according to their psychomotor performance and skills. These tests determine the candidates' concentration, decision and reaction abilities, and his/her stress tolerance and speed and distance estimation. The psychomotor evaluations are used internationally, in South Africa, Botswana, Ghana and the USA to name a few.

Air transport is not only the safest mode of transport, but it is an important factor to stimulate economic growth, especially in the tourism and business sector. We all know the phrase: "A kilometer of road takes you nowhere, but a kilometer of runaway takes you all over the world." It is believed that there are an estimated 10 000 aircraft in the air at any given time. Fatalities in aircraft accidents have decreased dramatically during the recent years. This is a clear indication of the improved training methods applied today to security officers, air traffic controllers, flight and cabin crews, engineers and many other officers involved in air transport. However, we have to remember.

"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect."

On 11 September 2001, the world witnessed, with great shock and grief, the deliberate and coordinated acts of unlawful interference with international civil aviation in the United States, which resulted in great destruction, and the loss of thousands of lives. The despicable acts of unlawful interference with civil aviation in the United States resulted in such devastation and the loss of thousands of innocent lives and shocked and saddened the world.

Global air transport is a driver of economic development, a catalyst for business and tourism, and a vehicle for social and cultural development worldwide. Yet it has already been seriously affected by the events of a few years ago. We are faced with a downturn in the propensity to travel by air, caused by concerns regarding aviation security. We are faced with impediments to the flow of traffic, as we apply security measures, which are a quantum level higher than hat we have been accustomed to.

In his letter dated 21 September 2001, the President of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council Dr Assad Kotate requested all ICAO Member States to support the airline operators and, as required, the other parties, by providing a commitment to cover certain insurance risks left open by the above developments, until such time as the insurance markets stabilize.

Our task over the next few years is to begin curbing this new threat of international civil aviation. We can and will find ways to restore full confidence in the security of the aviation industry and thereby promote its economic wellbeing and we will use every means available, including the latest advances in technology, to streamline the flow of passengers and cargo, whilst attaining the highest possible levels of security.

Equally, our shared ability to transport people safely and efficiently grew dramatically with each passing year. In 1947, the world's airlines carried 21 million passengers on scheduled services. In the year 2000, that number reached an astounding figure, of over 1.6 billion. In other words, in 2000 the world's airlines carried, in under 5 days, as many passengers in all of 1947.

Growth in air traffic, while closely linked to economic growth, has consistently exceeded it, with average fares steadily declining in real terms. The finances of the world's airlines have passed through a series of cycles but have shown a positive operating result for the past thirteen years in succession. And most importantly, the number of fatal accidents and acts of unlawful interference have steadily decreased, in spite of the dramatic increase in the number of flights. In just over half a century we have erected the safest and most efficient system of mass transportation ever created. From Cape to Cairo air transport has grown into an integral part of the economy of nations, a vital partner in world tourism and a catalyst of international cultural exchanges.

In 1997, Directors General of Civil Aviation met in Montreal, Canada and agreed to the creation of a systematic and mandatory Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme to be conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

To date, most of the contracting states have been audited. Some states made their reports public while others are still addressing the deficiencies detected in their primary aviation legislation and regulations.

Based on the success of the global safety conference, Namibia has implemented the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme, an essential component of the plan.

The objective of the audit programme is to work with states to assess the status of implementation of safety-related ICAO standards and safety oversight practices. The methods consist of regular, mandatory, systematic and harmonized safety audits carried out by ICAO in all member states.

Most states including Namibia have been audited,with very encouraging results. The safety oversight audits are currently limited to personnel licensing and the operation and airworthiness of aircraft. We need to expand this programme to include air traffic services an aerodromes. I believe that such an expansion will help to strengthen safety oversight and make our skies even more safer.

Two other major activities under the Global Aviation Safety Plan deserve special mention. One is the Flight Safety and Human Factors Programme, which contributed to a better understanding of the impact of human behavior on safety. The other is the programme for the Prevention of Control Flight into Terrain, which is helping to reduce substantially that type of accident.

Unfortunately, in spite of our many prevention efforts, aircraft accidents still occurs.

When they do, the thoroughness of accident and incident investigations can prove invaluable in helping make sure they don't happen again. That is why investigation policies, procedures and techniques must keep pace with any development that can affect safety.

Forty-six years ago, in scheduled air services worldwide, a quarter of a million safe landings took place for every one fatal accident. In 2000, more than a million safe landings were made for every one fatal accident! That is an exceptional record, one we shall continue to strive to improve.

Globally the aircraft accident rate has levelled off, and we must decrease it starting from national levels, regional and internationally, or we will have more accidents. Already in the year 2000, airline passengers on scheduled services exceeded 1.6 billion for the first time. And the number of airline passengers is projected to grow for the rest of this decade and beyond, although at a lower rate than previously forecast in light of the 11 September events.

Governments and safety regulators should be committed to reducing the air incidents and accident rates as the volume of air traffic increases. The scope of accident investigations must go beyond the immediate technical factors and should include corporate culture. Operators' licenses must have more stringent criteria to ensure that operators have both resources and the management capacity to ensure high safety standards. Safety regulators will be enabled to attract, retain suitably qualified personnel and to upgrade their qualifications if need be. The Government's ultimate goal is to train more aviation inspectors to attain the same level or higher as the personnel to be inspected and monitored. In simple terms, the Namibian Government has embarked upon capacity building.

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