Kotoka International Airport was originally a military airport used by the British Royal Air Force during World War II. A development project was launched in 1956 by President Kwame Nkrumah after it was handed over to civilian authorities. The airport which was known as Accra International Airport was renamed Kotoka International Airport, in honor of Lieutenant General Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka.
Air transport forms one of the fundamental and yet complicated transport operation in the world. It is most appreciated as a crucial mode of transporting persons and goods across continents and regions, mobilizing huge sums of revenue for industry operators including revenues for countries for national development. Ghana’s aviation industry stands resilient and gained high reputation across the world since independence.
Nonetheless, this enviable status is sometimes challenged by unfortunate accidents and serious incidents. Since 2012, Ghana has recorded six (6) major aircraft accidents and numerous serious incidents, involving deaths of persons and damaged to property. His Excellency’s vision of making Ghana the aviation hub of West Africa may remain a dream if the infrastructure and appropriate institutions are not established in the aviation industry to deal with relevant issues in line with national obligations and international standards.
Section 25 of the Ghana Civil Aviation (Amendment) Act, 2019, Act 985 mandates the Minister of Aviation to be responsible for the investigation of aircraft accidents and serious incidents arising out of or in the course of air navigation that occurs in or over the Republic and Accra Flight Information Region. In exercising the power conferred on the Minister as in Section 25 and in consultation with major stakeholders in the Aviation Industry, the Minister for Aviation by Ministerial Directive established an Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) on 27th March, 2019, as an Administrative Unit for the conduct of investigation into aircraft accidents and serious incidents.
This Unit continued to function until research of international best practices and references to ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) indicated the need to establish a more prudent and consolidated autonomous body to man the Accident Investigation Bureau. A deeper comprehension of Report of the ICAO Validated Coordinated Mission (ICVM) on Ghana from 26th March to 3rd April 2019 strongly affirms the position of establishing an independent institution to conduct investigations into aircraft accidents and incidents when they occur.
It was realized that ad-hoc investigation teams are not only expensive in terms of operations but are unable to sustain institutional memory for future investigations, policy enforcements and efficiency in terms of meeting international obligations. Subsequently, countries such as Japan, Malta, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Singapore, Qatar, Netherlands, United States of America, United Kingdom among others have already established autonomous aircraft accident investigation bodies.
Even though the Bureau strives to exist and function effectively, it is incapacitated as indicated by ICAO provisions which expect it to function independently and also produce results acceptable by international standards and practices. Generally, findings of the non-autonomous bodies, not conforming to ICAO requirements may be rejected by stakeholders or implemented leisurely. The attitude may be that of perceived biases or interfered investigations and doctored findings. Thus, this affects the credibility of the existing Unit created under the Ministry and puts Ghana in a position well behind its peers.
To put it in context, ICAO Doc 9962 (Manual on Accident and Incident Investigation Policies and Procedures; Second edition, 2019) states that “maintaining independence in the conduct of investigations will result in enhancing the credibility of the Accident Investigation Authority and its ability to avoid situations that have the potential to create conflicts of interest.” Additionally, general provisions of ICAO Annex 13 (Aircraft Accidents and Incidents Investigation) propose that an accident investigation authority must be strictly objective and impartial and must also be perceived to be so.
It must also be able to conduct investigations in an independent manner that precludes interference from outside pressures. Chapter 3, paragraph 3.2 of ICAO Annex 13 calls on States to establish accident investigation authorities that are independent from State aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation. Accordingly, such authorities shall have unrestricted authority in the conduct of their investigations.
Consequently, these provisions and the likely weaknesses associated with non-autonomous investigation bodies seek to compel all States to examine these bodies and to establish more resilient and self-reliance institutions that will carry out credible and acceptable aircraft accidents and incidents investigations.
JUSTIFICATION FOR GOVERNMENT ACTION
Article 26 of the Chicago Convention requires every State in which an aviation accident occurs to investigate the event. Sequel to this convention, ICAO Annex 13 requires that the investigation must be professionally done and devoid of any interferences and biases. The capacity for the investigatory body must not only be legal, but also well structured, resourced and autonomous in its operations and findings. The proposed Bureau will fulfil this international obligation. Additionally, in 2019, when ICAO conducted a Validation Mission to test Ghana’s level of Effective Implementation (EI) of ICAO SARPs, Ghana obtained an EI score of 89.89 percent. This was an improvement over 2006 assessment when Ghana scored 65.54 percent. Despite this great achievement, the mission recommended the Bureau to be given an autonomous status. The next Audit may be 2021 and the observation and remarks of Ghana may be bleak if an autonomous body for aircraft accident and incident investigations is not established as previously recommended.
Nonetheless, Ghana has achieved an enviable record in aviation safety arena. ICAO in 2019 in its, 40th ICAO Assembly in Montreal, Canada, awarded Ghana two prestigious relative aviation safety and security. This prestige may be lost in subsequent evaluations if international standards of establishing autonomous investigation body is not addressed. Undoubtedly, aviation safety and security contribute significantly to investor confidence in the State.
On 6th July, 2020, His Excellency the President granted executive approval for the laying in Parliament of the Aircraft Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau Bill, 2020, pursuant to which an autonomous Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau shall be established as an institution for the conduct of investigation into aircraft accidents and incidents in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs)
The President established the Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (Bureau) to investigate, prevent, regulate and oversee the management of aircraft accidents and incidents that occur in Ghana and the Accra Flight Information Region (FIR) through the Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation and Prevention Bureau Act, 2020 (Act 1028) which was passed by parliament and assented to by the President on 6th October, 2020.
The Bureau is affiliated to the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) and the Banjul Accord Group Accident Investigation Agency (BAGAIA).