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Somalia: Inflight Passenger Safety Lost in Translation
Friday January 26, 2018
By Maryan Dualle
Aden Adde International Airport provides a snapshot of the progress made in the last five to ten years in Somalia’s air travel. Any given day thousands of people from all walks of life change flights in this airport going and coming from neighbouring countries and cities all over the country, some of which would have been considered unreachable had it not been for these flights. Particularly, it is worth noting the diversity of the flyer in terms of age, gender and socioeconomics, arguably more women, children and older people fly today than any other time in Somalia’s history. Somalia has had a well-established commercial airline industry that goes back to the establishment of Somali Airline in 1964 and beyond. Somali Airline used to provide both domestic (main cities) and international flights to many countries in Africa, Middle East and Europe. However, the current domestic air transportation is unprecedented.
The aforementioned success can be contributed to multiple factors such as formation and strengthening of the Central Somalia Government and local administrations, improved security in many parts of the country, improved airports, poor conditions and insecurity of roads and so forth. However, the biggest factor of all is the foresight, entrepreneurial spirit and the courage of the Somali businessmen and women, who took the chance to provide air transport in an uncertain environment at a critical time. Air transport access has tremendously improved businesses, delivery of humanitarian and development aid and health and wellbeing of the Somali people.
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While tremendous progress has been made in Somalia’s air travel in the last five to ten years and domestic connections to small towns is increasing frequently, there are still undeniable gaps including but not limited to frequency and availability of flights to some parts of the country (e.g. most of Gedo region, Sool, Sanaag, parts of Mudug … etc.), cost of flights, delays, conditions of airlines and most importantly inflight passenger safety regulations and communications. As a frequent flyer of Somalia Commercial Airlines, I am always on edge wondering if the next phone call will interfere with the flight control; the passenger by the emergency exit will be able to open the door in case of emergency, or if any of the passengers understood the safety message and will know what to do in case of emergency (loss of cabin pressure, sea or land crashes, etc.). Thus, the focus of this article is about the need to improve Somalia Commercial Airline’s in-flight passenger safety regulations and communications. Over the past four years, I have flown with more than 100 flights from different carriers operating in Somalia, Kenya and Dubai. I had the opportunity to fly on a very small, mid-sized and relatively larger airplanes from different carriers including UN, EU, ECO and varies domestic and international airlines (e.g. Daalo, Juba, Freedom, Blue sky, Som-airline, African express, Dubai and many others.). Flight management and basic onboard amenities have come a long way from recent history when people used to stand in airplanes or there were no overhead pins. Today, everyone on the flight gets a seat, there are overhead storages, most seats have functional seatbelts and trays and even passenger safety message is broadcasted and demonstrated before take off.
Unfortunately, appropriate and effective inflight passenger safety messages are still missing from Somali carriers. None of the aircrafts that I have flown in provided Somali passenger safety message either on their overhead announcement or on their safety brochures except for one of the newest carrier (Ocean Airline), which announces safety messages both in Somali and English. As I mentioned above safety messages are always announced and the safety brochures are available in every seat but in foreign languages (e.g. English, Arabic or Swahili (mainly English).
In order to understand the seriousness of the issue, one needs to first understand why airline passenger safety is used in the first place. Airlines have many safety measures that are implemented at different steps from flight maintenance checks, inspecting of flight control equipment, safety screening of luggage and passengers to finally informing passengers of possible risks and accidents during the flight and recommended mitigation strategies. All of these safety measures are there to protect passengers and have been born from previous accidents and well-founded plausible risks. This means while rear compare to other accidents (e.g. Vehicle) airplane malfunctions and accidents caused by humans (terrorist), natural disaster (bad weather) or equipment failure do happen more frequently than people think. For example, in 2016 92 aviation accidents occurred globally, which caused 494 deaths. The messages (e.g. use of oxygen mask, brace position, use of seatbelt, use of life jacks, how to open the emergency exit, etc.) that are provided on board are meant to minimized the human injuries and fatalities during emergencies and evidence show that people who observe on-board safety measure sustain substantially fewer injuries than those who do not observe safety measures on board.
In this case majority of the Somali passengers (except for UN and EU flights, which cater to professionals) will not observe the in-flight passenger safety measures, because they do not understand the message. Appropriate passenger safety messaging is a matter of life and death in a high-risk environment like Somalia, where the fleets of airplanes are old and might have limited access to maintenance; pilots are given special training to land and take off abruptly in order to avoid certain security threats and many people with medical conditions are travelling without medical equipment and support on board . To this end, the airlines are risking passengers’ lives and are exposing their businesses to unnecessary liability risks. The lack of Somali inflight passenger safety messages also has a negative implication for Somalia government and particularly for the Somali Civil Aviation & Meteorology Authority, which is supposed to ensure passenger safety among other things.
All is not lost in improving Somalia inflight passenger safety regulations and communications as historic milestones have been reached recently with Somalia regained the control of its airspace back. The government needs to strike while the proverbial iron is still hot and establish/update and enforce flight safety regulations in its entirety including in-flight passenger safety communications. This will not be easy, for it will require extensive resources for infrastructure and human capacity, however, it is possible with appropriate management of airspace revenue and prioritization of flight safety.
In the meantime, the unsung heroes (Somali businessmen and women) who took the initial risk to revive this industry and took it to an impressive level of success in the past five to ten years need to keep improving their services by protecting passengers and themselves with appropriate inflight passenger safety messaging. The following simple steps will go a long way in ensuring Somali passenger safety and protecting your investments.
• Adopt international in-flight passenger safety communications into simple Somali language for overhead announcement
• Make the main language of the safety brochures Somali
• Have at least one Somali speaking flight attendance in each flight.
• Finally, make sure always inflight passenger safety messages are transmitted in Somali and other required languages.
Finally, to my fellow Somali travellers, please turn off your phone and fasten your seatbelt! The in-flight passenger safety messages are there for your safety and it might save your life. Please listen to the flight attendants, ask for help if you do not understand the anything (e.g. safety message) and remember flight accidents are for real and it can happen in Somalia too!
Maryan A. Dualle, B.S. MPH.
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