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Malawi’s risky skies

Spotlight on air transport in absence of aviation authority

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People travelling into, out of and through Malawi’s airspace might be having their safety compromised following failure by government to establish the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) whose mandate would be to provide safety oversight and ensure effective air transport, among other obligations.

A source at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA), who chose not to be identified, lamented the absence of the authority, saying there was an incident during the recent African Union Region Five Youth Games that exposed how risky it is to travel by air in Malawi.

The source said in the absence of the CAA, service in the country’s airports is compromised and called on authorities to look beyond the landing and taking off of aircraft.

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“During the games, there was an electricity blackout in Lumbadzi and KIA was affected. The generator that powers landing lights had no fuel.

“A plane was delayed because the pilot was told to circle in the air while some civil aviation officers rushed with a jerry can to buy fuel from a nearby trading centre. The plane only landed after the generators were fuelled,” the source said.

It is also on record that safety and security equipment, which includes modern fire engines that were part of a K30 billion European Investment Bank’s programme of aviation safety for Malawi, is barely in operation.

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In his State of the Nation Address on May 12 last year, President Lazarus Chakwera announced that Malawi would have a fully-fledged CAA by June, 2022, as a sign of his government’s commitment to improve air transport in the country.

Meanwhile, Chief Air Transport Planning Officer in the Department of Civil Aviation, Michael Mononga, confirmed that Malawi is the only country in the region without an autonomous regulatory authority for air transport.

Mononga said results of a 2009 International Civil Aviation Organisation Universal Safety Oversight Audit conducted on Malawi revealed a high level of lack of effective implementation of 66 percent of the critical elements of an effective safety oversight system.

The percentage is the highest in Africa.

Mononga said the situation speaks to non-compliance with internationally acceptable standards of civil aviation operations.

“This lack of compliance is a deficiency that poses an immediate risk to international civil aviation and is hampering the economic development, trade and investment linked to the air transport sector in Malawi,” he said.

The aviation official added that with the current situation, Malawi is failing in its obligation of ensuring implementation of effective safety oversight as one of the tenets of the Convention on International Civil Aviation to which the country is a signatory.

The convention urges signatory nations to satisfactorily discharge their international obligations and responsibilities in the development and conduct of civil aviation activities in a safe and orderly manner.

Asked on what is delaying the process of establishing the CAA even after the Aviation Bill was passed by Parliament in 2017, Mononga said authorities took longer to constitute the board, which only had three members by 2020 and that it has now fully been constituted and will soon go to work.

“Some background work has been done by the taskforce that is working on the matter. When the board begins to meet, they will set up an action plan and necessary targets. Only then will we be able to say with certainty regarding the dates for full operationalisation of the CAA,” he added.

It is envisaged that the authority, whose director Noel Misanjo was already appointed, would be up and running by the end of 2023.

The National Transport Master Plan of 2017 lists the aviation subsector as one area of major reforms eying its full development through infrastructure upgrades and wooing private sector investment in the country’s 33 airfields, two international airports and five secondary airports.

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