A Boeing 737 MAX 8
File photo: A Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane. Image Credit: NYT

By Allen Onyema, Special to Gulf News

The Boeing 737 Max 8 crash in Africa early this year raised vital and pressing questions about industry safety and readiness in the midst of the ongoing investigation into the deadly air disaster. As investigators continue to make sense of what had happened, fears over the incident’s impact on the African airline industry as a whole have — as was expected — emerged.

Confidence in the continent has understandably been shaken by the catastrophe. Can the tragedy spoil the growth prospects of African carriers this year and the coming period?

While these fears are valid, this is also the ideal time for the industry to take stock of the present situation so that crucial reforms can be made to avoid a repeat of the incident. As early as now, it is welcoming to see that authorities have immediately implemented corrective and pivotal measures. We expect to witness more impactful changes in the future upon the conclusion of the investigation — transformations that are seen to bring the industry to new levels.

The recovery is going to be challenging but is ongoing. The African regulatory bodies have already ordered the grounding of B737 Max 8 and directed Boeing to come up with a full investigation and corrective action plans. To address the worries and concerns of the passengers, meanwhile, the governments have rolled out campaigns to highlight the fact that not all African carriers, especially those based in West Africa, use the aircraft in question.

These fast government actions are only to be expected, especially since the aviation industry remains a key economic pillar for many African nations. The steadily growing sector is vital to the countries’ fight against poverty in their respective territories.

The continent prioritises the enhancement and improvement of the sector because it recognises its fundamental role in the all-encompassing socio-economic development agenda. The much-needed job creation is just one benefit of having a robust aviation industry, in addition to building a stronger tourism and hospitality community.

The African aviation industry is predicted to significantly soar in the coming decades, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasting a nearly 5 per cent growth for the sector. With this immense expansion, more significant opportunities are seen to be generated and will help improve Africa’s global standing. Africa is well-positioned to turn this tragedy around.

Further, a number of African carriers can boast excellent safety and transparency record, strong performance, and unwavering commitment to the highest industry standards and the best global practices. The concerned authorities’ immediate response and actions according to the set rules and regulations demonstrated as well the growing industry’s determination to find effective and long-lasting solutions to avoid the disaster moving forward.

We are confident that the order to ground B737 Max 8 will not directly impact the entire African market because most countries in the continent, especially in West Africa, have no B737 Max in their fleet. Most aviation companies now understand that Africa needs consistent, world-class training programmes for all pilots, and have been successful in its execution.

This will ensure that they are equipped and qualified to handle new aircraft features and, more importantly, deal with different kinds of problems and situations. As for Air Peace’s order of 10 B737 Max, the transaction will remain, but rest assured that we are in close communication with Boeing for any important development.

Given the way the African aviation industry is witnessing a boom, Air Peace has outlined its growth pattern by flying to international destinations, and will keep on acquiring more planes to spread its wings.

Allen Onyema is Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, a Nigerian airline.