A plane crashing into an apartment block in Lagos, killing at least 153. A cargo aircraft hitting a bus in Accra, killing ten. It wasn't a good weekend for airline security in West Africa. But does that mean we should boycott African airlines altogether?
"It's incredibly easy to hype an accident like this and tar all African airline companies with the same brush," warns Alex van Elk, speaking about the weekend's Lagos crash. The Dutchman is general manager of Cameroon's national airline Camair-Co based in Douala. His wager is that it was an accident, although the cause of the crash won't be known until the aircraft's black box is located.
Prior to joining Camair-Co, Van Elk was managing director for the private Nigerian airline Arik Air and oversaw the opening of a new terminal at Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos. He also personally knows the director of Nigeria's privately owned Dana Air, the airline operating the plane that crashed in Lagos.
"The machines aren't new, but they're well-maintained," says Van Elk. "And, personally, I'd rather fly in a 20-year old plane which has been reviewed regularly than in a brand-new plane that no mechanic ever took a look at."
Impeccable safety record
In a weird coincidence, just days before the Lagos crash, an article about Nigeria's impeccable air safety record since 2006 was published by the director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Harold Demuren.
Van Elk believes that Nigeria has invested a lot in material and manpower into their airline industry over the past few years. According to him: "Supervision has improved tremendously and they hired consultants to bring their manuals and procedures up to date."
Nigerian airlines do not feature on the European Commission's list of airline companies banned from flying within European space and they have a so-called Category 1 authorization to fly to the United States.
"In fact, Nigeria is one of the council members of the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization," says Van Elk. "So I have no doubt that Nigeria takes aviation security very seriously."
Airlines from the following African countries feature on a European Commission blacklist: Angola, Benin, Congo-Brazzaville, DRC, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Mauretania, Mozambique, Sao Tomé & Principe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland and Zambia.