The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has developed what it calls the Cross-Functional Accident Reduction Plan (CFARP) which aims to reduce accidents in the general aviation sector, in a coordinated manner.
The plan, which will be implemented over two years, deals with systematic inherent weaknesses in addressing the causes of aircraft accidents.
The authority has expressed concern at the recent spate of aircraft accidents that have claimed the lives of 11 people while calling for safety in the skies. There were six fatalities in six accidents in January - and five people died in three accidents in February.
The accidents occurred in the general aviation sector that is primarily made up of privately-owned small aircraft and recreational aircraft.
An additional, 22 non-fatal serious aircraft incidents and accidents were reported with 12 occurring in January, and 10 in February.
The number of fatalities was significantly higher compared to the period in the last two years. On average there are about 20 fatal aircraft accidents per year.
"We express our condolences to those who have lost their loved ones. The SACAA is seriously concerned about the high number of accidents and fatalities that have taken place since the start of the year," SACAA's newly appointed Director of Civil Aviation Poppy Khoza said on Thursday.
Khoza said the CFARP had been based on inputs from within and outside the SACAA and would be subject to on-going review. "When the plan was compiled, the question of whether accidents are caused by man or machine was asked.
In this instance, statistics illustrate that factors related to piloting present the single most common cause of accidents. It is thus logical to ensure that a significant part of our efforts to reduce accidents are directed at 'human error' challenges faced by pilots," Khoza explained.
The plan also looks at what categories of pilots are responsible for accidents.
Data from serious incident and accident investigation reports between 2006 and 2012 indicate that pilots with fewer than 500 flying hours are responsible for most accidents.
"Although data within the first 500 hours could not be broken down further at this stage; for example, according to licence holders, it stands to reason that the lower the hours, the more likely an accident would be; although that is not always the case," she added.
According to Khoza, the CFARP will, among other things, attempt to maximise the development of pilot airmanship. "This initiative will focus on pilots' knowledge, skills and attitude."
She said more could be done in terms of coordination and continued education for pilots, particularly for those with low flying hours and/or operating under hazardous conditions.
The CFARP plan also seeks to improve pilot competency development within the training environment with the authority intensifying its oversight role over pilot training schools.
"It has become apparent that the entry requirements for the approval of training schools are wide open; and this appears to have contributed to the establishment of training schools approximately ten times the number of those in other developed countries," said Khoza.
She added that while it was not the intention of the SACAA to discourage growth, further interrogation was required.
Additionally, SACAA is considering the introduction of a standardised induction programme for all student pilots. The induction would "ensure appropriate induction of prospective pilots, leading to the adoption of positive attitudes and discipline."
Currently, the authority does not directly verify the claimed proficiency of any of the pilot candidates, as these are examined through designated flight examiners that do not form part of the regulatory authority.
Khoza said direct testing of pilots, at least on a sample basis, was being contemplated in order to determine trends concerning aviation training organisations.
In the meantime, the SACAA will continue to be vigilant to ensure proper conduct by all training organisations and aviators, she added.
"On average there are about 20 fatal aircraft accidents per year, resulting in an average of 40 fatalities per annum.
A further scrutiny of the statistics illustrates that despite a spike totalling 92 in 2008, there has been a steady decrease from 176 in 2006 to 22 in 2013, culminating in a 7% average annual decline in accidents.
"While the number of accidents has been declining over the years, we as the SACAA and the aviation community cannot take solace in statistics, as one life lost is just one too many," said Khoza.
The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) - which is an agency of the Department of Transport - is mandated with controlling, promoting, regulating, supporting, developing, enforcing and continuously improving levels of safety and security throughout the civil aviation industry.