International Aviation:

Federal Efforts Help Address Safety Challenges in Africa, but Could Benefit from Reassessment and Better Coordination

GAO-09-498: Published: Jun 16, 2009. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2009.

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The African continent is important to U.S. economic, strategic, and foreign policy interests, and efforts have been made to improve commerce and connectivity to benefit the two regions. However, the continent has the highest aviation accident rate in the world, which has hindered progress. Recognizing the importance of improving aviation safety in Africa, the United States and the international aviation community have worked to improve aviation safety in Africa. This congressionally requested report discusses (1) challenges in improving aviation safety in Africa, (2) key U.S. efforts to improve aviation safety in Africa and the extent to which they address the identified challenges, and (3) international efforts to improve aviation safety in Africa. To address these issues, GAO synthesized literature and aviation safety data, interviewed federal officials, and visited four African countries.

Improving aviation safety in Africa is an important goal for the United States and the international aviation community. However, achieving that goal presents several challenges. The major challenge is the relatively low priority that political leaders in many African countries have accorded aviation safety, in part because of more pressing concerns such as widespread poverty, national health care issues, and a lack of awareness about the potential benefits of an improved aviation system. This relatively low priority placed on improving safety is reflected in the other challenges that were frequently identified in the literature GAO reviewed and by the officials GAO interviewed. These challenges include weak regulatory systems, inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of technical expertise and training capacity. U.S. assistance to improve aviation safety in Africa has helped to address some challenges. For instance, the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Safe Skies for Africa (SSFA) program--created in 1998 as a presidential initiative--is the principal U.S. effort to improve aviation safety. One of the primary goals of the SSFA program is to increase the number of African countries that meet international aviation safety standards. Through memorandums of agreement, the State Department provides funding for the program and DOT manages the program. DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration work to help African countries meet international aviation safety standards by providing technical assistance and training. However, funding for the program has been inconsistent since its inception, with funding levels ranging from a high of $8.5 million from the Department of State's fiscal year 2003 appropriation to zero from its appropriations in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. DOT officials stated that current budgetary and personnel limitations hamper their ability to effectively implement the program. For example, DOT has currently limited SSFA activities to countries making tangible progress in improving safety, rather than directing activities to all participating countries. Given the potential benefits associated with improved aviation systems, two agencies that focus on economic development--the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Millennium Challenge Corporation--have also provided funding for aviation safety-related projects in Africa. However, coordination of U.S. efforts on the continent has not been consistent, because of differences in agency missions and program processes, resulting in potential duplication of effort and missed opportunities to leverage limited resources. Several international efforts have been implemented to assist and encourage African countries in improving their civil aviation systems. For example, in response to widespread concerns about the adequacy of aviation safety oversight on the continent, the International Civil Aviation Organization developed the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa to help African countries meet their international obligations for safety oversight. The World Bank also provides funding for African countries to address aviation needs and deficiencies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, GAO reported that improving aviation safety in Africa is an important goal for the United States and the international aviation community, but achieving that goal presents several challenges. U.S. assistance has improved aviation safety in Africa and has helped to address some challenges. For instance, the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Safe Skies for Africa (SSFA) program is the principal U.S. effort to improve aviation safety. DOT manages SSFA program and with FAA work to help African countries meet international aviation safety standards by providing technical assistance and training. However, the Department of State's funding for the program has been inconsistent since its inception, with wide ranging funding levels across the fiscal years. Moreover, in 2009, DOT's budgetary and personnel limitations began hampering DOT's ability to effectively implement the program. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Millennium Challenge Corporation have also provided funding for aviation safety-related projects in Africa, because of the potential economic benefits associated with improved aviation systems. Nevertheless, there remains a lack of human capital expertise within Africa to fill critical aviation positions leaving many of these countries noncompliant with international aviation safety standards. The future of the SSFA program is uncertain because of resource constraints. Given this uncertainty, it seems appropriate for DOT, FAA, and the Department of State to reassess the government's ability to achieve the program's goals in view of the level of resources being provided. Therefore, GAO recommended that DOT should lead a collaborative effort to reassess the Safe Skies program's goals and identify the level of budgetary and human capital resources necessary to achieve those goals. In response, DOT initiated efforts to conduct a comprehensive review of the Safe Skies for Africa program. In February 2012, DOT developed an Action Memorandum that outlined the results of its Safe Skies Global Review that described the long-term goals of the program, changes to DOT's coordination strategy for U.S. aviation safety-related assistance, and the resources needed to achieve program goals. This plan was the result of collaborative effort with Safe Skies' stakeholders in the U.S. and international community. DOT met with high-level State officials in February 2013 and briefed them on the details of the Action Memorandum to ensure that they are aware of the coordination efforts that DOT has made with other federal agency stakeholders and the potential impact of resource constraints on the ability of the program to meet its goals and objectives. As a result, DOT's actions will enable it to better lead U.S. aviation safety-related efforts for Africa through improved coordination with funding allocations and with the relevant federal agencies involved to reduce duplication of efforts, to better leverage resources and expertise, and optimize the impact of their efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should lead a collaborative effort with the Administrator of FAA and the Secretary of State to reassess the SSFA program's goals and identify the level of budgetary and human capital resources necessary to achieve those goals, including identifying the implications of reduced resource levels on DOT's ability to achieve the program's goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, GAO reported that improving aviation safety in Africa is an important goal for the United States and the international aviation community, but achieving that goal presents several challenges. U.S. assistance to improve aviation safety in Africa, by providing technical assistance and training, has helped to address some challenges. U.S. efforts on the continent have not consistently been coordinated for funding air transportation-related activities. The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Safe Skies for Africa (SSFA) program began as a collaborative effort between DOT and other U.S. agencies. Several U.S. federal agencies are involved in funding aviation-related projects in African countries. However, coordination of U.S. efforts on the continent has not been consistent, because of differences in agency missions and program processes, resulting in potential duplication of effort and missed opportunities to leverage limited resources. While DOT has been involved in some of these aviation safety-related projects, the federal agencies have not collaborated consistently, partly because the other agencies do not focus specifically on improving aviation safety. As GAO has previously reported, agencies can enhance and sustain their collaborative efforts by developing a strategy that includes necessary elements for a collaborative working relationship. Therefore, GAO recommended that DOT should develop a comprehensive strategy to lead efforts to coordinate the governmentwide resources available to accomplish the program's goals. In response, DOT initiated efforts to conduct a comprehensive review of the Safe Skies for Africa program. In February 2012, DOT developed an Action Memorandum that outlined the results of its Safe Skies Global Review that described the long-term goals of the program, changes to DOT's coordination strategy for U.S. aviation safety-related assistance, and the resources needed to achieve program goals. This plan was the result of collaborative effort with Safe Skies' stakeholders in the U.S. and international community. DOT met with high-level State officials in February 2013 and briefed them on the details of the Action Memorandum to ensure that they are aware of the coordination efforts that DOT has made with other federal agency stakeholders and the potential impact of resource constraints on the ability of the program to meet its goals and objectives. As a result, DOT's actions in developing a comprehensive strategy will enable it to better lead U.S. aviation safety-related efforts for Africa through improved coordination of governmentwide resources available to accomplish the SSFA program's goals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should develop a comprehensive strategy to lead efforts to coordinate the governmentwide resources available to accomplish the SSFA program's goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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