The International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao), a global civil aviation regulator, has suspended some of the prerogatives of the local regulator, Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), because Malawi is failing to meet expected targets, Weekend Nation has established.
As a result of these shortcomings, identified through the last routine Icao safety oversight audit programme, Malawi is rated under what is called in civil aviation as significant safety concern (SSC), a rating that is just above being blacklisted.
Because of this relationship with Icao, we have established separately through the Malawian Airlines, the Public Private Partnership Commission, a local pilot and an aircraft engineer, the DCA is prevented from issuing licences for local pilots to fly foreign planes that the local airline is using.
This has resulted in some local aviation personnel suspecting that the Ethiopians, who are a strategic partner with a 49 percent stake in Malawian Airlines, are favouring their nationals who currently are the only ones permitted to fly and maintain the aircrafts.
According to Icao’s audit information, an SSC rating does not necessarily indicate a particular safety deficiency in the air navigation service providers, airlines (air operators), aircraft or aerodrome; but rather, indicates that the State is not providing sufficient safety oversight to ensure the effective implementation of applicable Icao standards.
The audit shows that Malawi, Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone make the list of States under SSC.
An Icao’s final safety report of 2013 indicates that Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan and Zambia have successfully resolved the SSCs identified after implementing validation of corrective actions or mitigating measures.
While Mauritania and Sudan, the report indicates, have met the target of 60 percent of effective implementation of safety-related SARPs and significant improvements have been noted by the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (Usoap) in Benin and Madagascar.
“Icao will continue to provide assistance and coordinate the efforts of the international aviation community to support States willing to improve their safety oversight capabilities,” the report reads.
Malawi Airlines spokesperson Maganizo Mazeze confirmed in interview on Monday that only Ethiopian pilots were flying the planes for the airliner because the local pilots, despite being oriented, are yet to secure flying licenses. He could not be drawn to mention that it is the Icao suspension of DCA that has caused the problem.
“The local pilots trained by the airliner will only start flying the planes once they secure flying licences. At the moment [therefore] Malawian airlines has recruited three foreign pilots and is also using nine pilots who have been temporarily seconded from Ethiopian Airlines,” he disclosed.
According to Mazeze, the ‘seconded’ expatriate pilots are paid daily per diem for their upkeep while on duty in Malawi, a practice, he said, is conventional practice the world over, but which, one of our sources said, would have been curtailed if local pilots were being used.
Jimmy Lipunga, the chief executive officer of the Public Private Partnership Commission (PPPC)— the facilitator of the Malawin Airlines deal—said in an interview on Tuesday that the local pilots were not being licensed because of what he called “complicated regulatory challenges from our Malawian side.”
Director of Civil Aviation, Alfred Mtilatila, has been sitting on our questionnaire for 12 days despite acknowledging receipt on Wednesday this week and promising to attend to it on Thursday and at the time of going to press yesterday, his phone was out of reach.
“O! Sorry, let me apologise that I have not been able to deal with your questionnaire because I have been up and down. But I will respond to your questions shortly,” said Mtilatila about a questionnaire that was sent to him on June 24 2014.
A source close to the Malawian Airlines operations confided in the Weekend Nation last week that since the airliner took off in February 2014 no single local pilot or engineer, despite receiving induction in Addis Ababa on the aircrafts the airline is using, have been allowed to fly or service them.
“Of course the official reason the local pilots cannot fly the planes is because they have not been given licences by DCA to fly foreign planes,” said the source, an aircraft engineer boasting a 20-year experience, who refused to be named because he is not authorised to speak on such matters. “As for the local engineers, no formal reason has been given.”
Another source, a pilot, said on Monday that the DCA is not able to issue licences to the local pilots to fly foreign planes because for over four years the department has been under SSC for failing to fulfil some international aviation standards.
“Until the Icao is satisfied that DCA has managed to sort out these inadequacies, no local pilot, regardless of training, can be issued a licence [by DCA] to fly foreign planes,” said the pilot.
Lipunga disclosed being visited by some local pilots to complain about their predicament.
“They have been here to see me. But I have assured them that the Malawian Airlines desperately wants to deploy them. I am sure they will very soon start flying. There have been complicated regulatory challenges from our Malawian side that has frustrated the ability to fly. The Department of Civil Aviation is required to issue licences to these pilots for the new planes,” explained Lipunga.
Explaining the non-participation of local engineers on the Malawian Airlines planes, Mazeze said the maintainance agreement between strategic partner, Ethiopian Airlines and Malawian Airlines requires that the planes be serviced and maintained by Ethiopians.
“The reason for outsourcing maintenance is that building capacity for such a complex undertaking requires time and huge investment,” he explained.
When Mazeze’s explanation was brought to the attention of the aircraft engineer, he said:
“He should have told you that because the planes are not ours, but registered in Ethiopia, they have found it convenient to use Ethiopian engineers to avoid the hassle of getting the locals to get registered by the civil aviation authority in Ethiopia. The point being that we have an airline that is not providing opportunities to local experts.