x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tighter rules for cargo flights

National aviation body has introduced more stringent measures to cut accident risk after six people were killed when a Sudan Airways flight crashed shortly after take-off.

Rescue workers sift through the wreckage of a Sudanese cargo aircraft that crashed in Sharjah last October.
Rescue workers sift through the wreckage of a Sudanese cargo aircraft that crashed in Sharjah last October.

DUBAI // Six months after six people were killed when a Sudan Airways flight crashed shortly after take-off from Sharjah's airport, small cargo operators have found themselves governed by much tighter regulations. In the wake of the crash, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) introduced a raft of measures aimed at cutting the risk of a similar accident occurring.

It made it more expensive for low-cost airlines to fly in the UAE, by increasing minimum insurance requirements on foreign airlines in March. It has issued an outright ban on one Ukrainian-made cargo plane that had routinely used UAE airspace. The authority is also drawing up its own blacklist that, similar to EU regulations, will prevent foreign airlines deemed to have insufficient safety standards from entering the country's airspace.

Those plans were revealed after an investigation by The National last November found that at least six operators banned from flying in Europe regularly used UAE airports. "It's very good to see that such attention is being brought to the problems; it's very, very good," said Tony Sanders, a manager at Maximus Air Cargo, a large Abu Dhabi-based transporter. An investigation into the cause of October's accident is ongoing, but the families of some of those killed say they are being kept in the dark.

Federal authorities have declined to reveal any details of the inquiry until the results are compiled into a final report. "They haven't given us any information about this," said Mustafa Elsawi, the son of Elsawi Mustafa Elsawi, 64, an engineer who died in the crash. He and his brother say they have been unable to get firm answers from Azza Transport, the Sudanese company that owned the Boeing 707, about their father's life insurance policy with the company.

"I have heard this news in the media, not the company. I never heard anything from them. "I tried to call the company. They finally answered. They said the air crash happened and that your father is gone. Just like this, and that was it." Aidaros al Tayeb, Azza's chief of flight operations, said the company was prepared to arrange compensation. Three crewmen on the downed flight worked for Azza, including Mr Elsawi, while the other three were employed by Sudan Airways.

"The compensation is being processed" for the company's three employees, he said. The aircraft crashed on October 21, just over a kilometre from Sharjah International Airport and burst into flames. Unable to gain altitude, it had banked sharply to the right just after take-off and almost flipped onto its back. Speculation about engine failure has mounted, primarily because witnesses reported seeing debris flaking off at least one of the aircraft's four turbofan engines just before it went down.

Investigators have run into obstacles including the discovery that the aeroplane's two flight recorders, or "black boxes", were not working during the incident. Mr al Tayeb admitted his company was responsible for maintaining the flight recorders and said he did not know why they had malfunctioned. Azza was banned from UAE airspace shortly after the crash, pending the results of the investigation.

The operator had previously had sanctions imposed by the US government in 2007 for its suspected role in transporting weapons to Sudan's troubled Darfur region @Email:hnaylor@thenational.ae