Aid groups urge reduction of hazards for air crews

Aviation safety conference calls for better identification on aircraft and hazard reporting, among other measures to protect workers.

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SHARJAH // They fly into war-torn areas and disaster zones to deliver aid to those most in need.

But delegates at a conference on humanitarian aviation operations this week emphasised that safety must be improved by those delivering food and other relief items by air.

At the end of the two-day Global Aviation Safety Conference for Humanitarian Air Services, regulators, aid organisations and operators called for improved identification and reporting of hazards to ensure greater safety in the field.

Delegates at the event in Sharjah organised by the World Food Programme also recommended better communication between regulators and air operators, and called for more pilot training to reduce runway accidents.

Ahmed Bukalla, the director of operations at the Sharjah Department of Civil Aviation, said many operators fly from Sharjah to disaster zones around the world.

"When you are just flying normal sectors and the captain is sitting in the cockpit, it is more relaxed," he said. "But, if you go to an emergency area and everything is upside down, the captain is in a very difficult area and so we need to know how [we] can help the crew in this difficult situation."

He said poor landing conditions, bad weather and other challenges do not stop the crew getting aid to the people, but the conference aimed to find ways to reduce risks.

Cesar Arroyo, the chief of the WFP's air safety unit, said one of the main challenges faced by those operating flights to deliver aid to disaster zones is the often remote destinations outside of a regular "controlled environment".

One of the ways of mitigating safety issues is by identifying potential hazards before an accident happens, according to Mr Arroyo.

"We need to manage and identify hazards, which is difficult because people in this environment sometimes get accustomed to hazards," he said. "We are trying to encourage people to extract themselves while in that situation - to identify the hazards, to reduce accidents."

Michel Schaffner, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's air operations logistics division, described his team's work as "very challenging". "This is due to where we work: in natural disasters or war zones," he said. "We work in an environment where infrastructure is no longer present, by the very nature of what we do.

"These people are coming to the assistance of people in need to give hope."

Those undertaking such "life-saving missions" must be imaginative and enterprising, Mr Schaffner said.

William Voss, the president and chief executive of the US-based Flight Safety Foundation, stressed the "inherent risks" of humanitarian aviation activities.

"There are things that we can bring from other parts of the industry, but the humanitarian work is unique because of the stress," he said.

"Compared to hopping on a regular passenger flight it is about 100 times riskier, but it doesn't have to be that way."