Ghana recently spent $275 million expanding and modernising Kotoka International Airport located in the capital city, Accra. This is part of its plan to attract eight million tourists annually by 2027. A significant increase from the 1.2 million people who visited the country in 2015. Given that most of these tourists will arrive in the country by air, attracting them partly depends on Ghana's ability to create and maintain a safe air transport sector.
Ghana is a state party to the Chicago Convention. This multilateral treaty established the fundamental principles governing international air travel. It also created the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - a United Nations agency which manages the international air transport system. As a member of ICAO, Ghana is expected to comply with its standards and recommended practices.
But it has had some compliance problems. In 2006, Ghana ranked below average in five out of eight criteria set by the organisation's Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme. Although it met the requisite standard level for licensing, accident investigations and aerodromes, Ghana's aviation industry was found to be unsatisfactory when it came to legislation, organisation, operations, air worthiness and air navigation services.
In 2010, two Ghanaian airlines appeared on the European Union Air Safety List for failing to meet certain international safety standards. The list is a directory of airlines which have been banned or otherwise restricted from flying in the European Union. Currently, Ghana is a Category 2 country on the American Federal Aviation Authority's International Aviation Assessment Program. This means they were found to have not met the requisite safety standards.
Ghana's been working hard to address its aviation deficiencies. This has yielded some important successes. In 2015, the two Ghanaian airlines were removed from the EU Air Safety List. In June 2019 Ghana was awarded a provisional Effective Implementation grade of 89.89% in aviation safety oversight under ICAO's Coordinated Validation Mission.
This is a remarkable achievement: it surpasses the organisation's minimum target of 60% and significantly outshines the global average of 66.5%. It is also the highest score for an African country. The Effective Implementation average rate for the continent is just over 50%.
So how has Ghana achieved this milestone? Through inter-agency cooperation and efforts to amend existing legislation and pass new ones. These legislative efforts kicked off after the country's poor performance in the 2006 audit. Legislators and aviation authorities realised they needed to strengthen the country's laws to improve the situation. This work culminated in two particularly crucial pieces of legislation - the Ghana Civil Aviation (Amendment) Act, 2019 and Aircraft Accident and Serious Incident Regulations, 2019. Both were passed by Parliament in March this year.
There is still a need to address the other areas identified by the audit, air worthiness and organisational efficiency, for example. These require effective and efficient business administration. One solution may be to involve a commercially-focused private company to rectify the outstanding operational issues. Indeed there have been rumours of privatisation. The financial investment and strategic management necessary to maintain the safety improvements made, and take Ghana's aviation industry to the next level - one to rival counterparts in Nairobi - just might require the private sector.
The first of the two crucial laws aimed at improving aviation safety is the Ghana Civil Aviation (Amendment) Act 2019 (Act 985), which modified a number of pre-existing laws.
Under it, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority will retain its regulatory function. But it will no longer be responsible for operational functions such as navigation services. These will be coordinated by a new body. This separation of roles should improve economic efficiency and minimise conflicts of interests.
The Act has also strengthened some important roles within the aviation sector. For instance, powers of the Minister of Aviation and Chief Investigator have been enhanced. The Civil Aviation Authority's Director General has also been given extra powers. This person can now compel an individual to produce documents - or testify - before any person or panel whose work falls under the authority's mandate. These changes should assist the effective investigation of aviation incidents and accidents.
The other new legislation is the Aircraft Accident and Serious Incident Regulations, 2019. This requires airline operators to immediately notify authorities of an accident or serious incident. The law created the Accident Incident Bureau to manage investigations of civil aircraft accidents and serious incidents in Ghana. Its remit also covers any state-registered aircraft that are involved in incidents or accidents outside the country.
The new regulations also provide for the establishment of a database of facts and figures relating to accidents and serious incidents for the first time. This will enable officials to do useful analysis on actual or potential safety concerns. It will also help identify any necessary corrective measures.
These legislative changes are meant to improve aviation safety oversight, enhance the powers of aviation officials and address inefficiencies. It should also facilitate the transition to Category 1 status on the FAA's list.
It's hoped that the new legal framework will help Ghana improve its reputation and performance in all sorts of safety and compliance measures. And make the country's aircraft even safer for passengers.
What still needs to be done
Whether these new laws have their intended effect depends largely on the degree to which they are implemented. Additional resources are likely to be required. This could include a cash injection to sustain the progress made and increase the number of professionals with technical training and expertise in aviation. Any optimism about successful and long-lasting compliance requires senior officials with a sound understanding of the importance and will to enforce violations.
The tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019 was a sobering reminder that major problems arise when safety and security are concentrated in one stakeholder, like airline manufacturers.
The more stakeholders, including states, involved in evaluating, implementing and maintaining safety standards, the better. This is why stronger legislation is so important. Now it's incumbent on Ghana to ensure consistent compliance with its new laws.
Author: Julia Selman Ayetey - Doctoral Candidate, Institute of Air & Space Law, McGill University