Ethiopia – darling of African aviation – is accused of covering up a potentially deadly risk

 

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Ethiopia is long cited as one of the two main drivers of aviation growth in Africa, the other being Kenya. But this growth has revealed a really serious safety hazard which the government of Addis Ababa may regret should it not deal with the reports properly.

Kenyan aviation authorities have already complained about an ATC strike that has apparently caused major problems at least between the Kenyans and the Ethiopians.

“There have been several incidents of loss of standard separation between aircrafts at the point of transfer between Addis Ababa and Nairobi due to wrong or no estimates from Addis Ababa,’‘ the Kenyan Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a statement.

International operations team called OpsGroup which represents pilots, Controllers, Dispatchers, Managers and Problem-solvers of International Flight Operations has warned of a dire situation which the government of Addis Ababa has reportedly tried to hush up a potentially catastrophic situation.

On the 30th August 2018 the president of Kenya Air Traffic Controllers’ Association issued a public letter revealing what he said was examples of  poor management of air services. These include:

  1. Flights inbound to Nairobi from Addis are calling Nairobi control without prior estimates.
  2. There have been several incidents of loss of separation between aircraft at the transfer point due to incorrect or in certain instances, no estimate whatsoever from Addis.
  3. There has been one serious close call event between B737 and B767, both maintaining FL360, with no prior co-ordination from Addis.
  4. Addis airspace is currently manned by retired Controllers with no validation who have no understanding of current airspace procedures and who are overwhelmed.
  5. The few estimates passed by Addis to Nairobi have included incorrect call signs and even destinations.
  6. Aircraft are entering Kenyan airspace at flight levels different to those passed by Addis Controllers.

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When the strike was imminent, Ethiopian Airlines  tried to alleviate the effect by importing Air traffic controllers from other countries. It seemed like a perfectly plausible plan. Find ATC, pay them lots, fly them in and they help.

So they turned to nearby nations – like the DRC. The small team was not enough to cope, so the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority then requested 30 more air traffic controllers from Sudan and at least 24 from Kenya.

The Ethiopians even approached Zimbabwe and Malawi for help.

The crisis management obfuscates a real issue – ATCs need about 3 months to become acclimatised to the local circuits and operations. Anything else is just asking for trouble.

The other issues around this strike include the failure to issue NOTAMs or notices to airmen/women.

But that’s not all folks. Nine workers were arrested after apparently preventing international flights from landing at the Bole International Airport which is Ethiopia’s busiest.

The head of the ECAA, Colonel Wesenyelew Hunegnaw said the strike was over as workers had until Tuesday 4th September to return of be fired.

“Some of the employees engaged in the strike are returning back to their work. The remaining should submit a letter of apology and return to their work. They have until Tuesday (September 4),” he said.

In a statement, the airline also scotched rumours of close shaves involving aircraft.

“…all Ethiopian Airlines scheduled and unscheduled flights and other airlines operating to/from Ethiopia have been operating smoothly with high standards of flight punctuality and safety,” the airline said in an online statement.

“We would like to inform all our customers that we did not have any flight delay or cancellation caused by ATC. In fact, we are happy to announce that taxi-in, taxi-out and flight arrivals efficiency has improved significantly in the week under ATC strike.”

While we wonder what’s next, just remember that the African Union is based in Addis Ababa, and that the continents leaders constantly fly into the country along with government officials.

The negative effect of a military run society running ATC services then trying to determine the communication of a high risk scenario could lead to a severe incident should this issue not be sorted ASAP.

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Ethiopian Airlines pilots doing what all aviators like doing (after a long hot flight) – having a little champagne.

That’s because Ethiopian Airlines is growing at a rapid rate, operating a large fleet of more than 116 international passenger and cargo destinations across five continents and has a fifteen year strategic plan called Vision 2025 that’s going to rocket the nation into the top spot in African aviation.

Let’s hope they sort out their ATC issues or we may hear bad news from Addis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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