In 1998, President Bill Clinton formally announced the Safe Skies for Africa Program, known as SSFA. Run by the Department of Transportation, several U.S. government agencies, including the FAA and the State Department, partner with SSFA to help implement the program's goals, which include improving safety, security and air navigation in sub-Saharan Africa.
The 10 countries currently participating in the program receive funding, training and advice from U.S. aviation experts, with the hopes that their own aviation industry will reach the top international standards.
There are some signs that the programs like AviAssist, SSFA and others, along with help from the World Bank and the European Union, have been successful. Cape Verde, for example, was not on the FAA approved list 10 years ago, and it is now. Even countries that have not quite reached the standard of international aviation safety of most Western countries have shown vast improvement.
"There are a number of countries that are performing well, but a few skew the statistics: DRC, Sudan," said Kok. "Much more important are the number of other countries that have done a lot of work to turn around aviation. Tanzania, for example, is doing well."
Not surprisingly, many of the countries with some of the worst aviation records are places where war and conflict are either raging or have recently subsided. Extremely poor countries also have problems with aviation safety.
"The biggest trouble for Africa is that there are many competing primary needs, so that it makes it difficult to divert resources to aviation oversight," says Kok.
Several African officials working in the industry told GAO investigators that class issues also come into play. In a region where women and children must walk miles each day to fetch their daily supply of water, and where millions of people live without roads, electricity and other basic infrastructure, flying is seen as a luxury for the rich.
Championing money for aviation safety is politically risky. Other officials said corruption and government turf wars are another challenge to creating a proper oversight of the aviation industry.
"African political leaders often do not realize the potential benefits, such as increased tourism, that can flow from improved aviation safety," said the report.