Everyone who has died flying commercial in the past year was flying aboard airlines from the East. Safety may not be able to keep up with demand. The last place in the world where you would expect the government to announce the creation of a new airline would be Malaysia. After all, the state bankrolls Malaysia Airlines, stricken financially by the loss of Flight 370 and the destruction of Flight 17 over Ukraine.
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Each year the body overseeing world aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), conducts an audit of the performance of regional aviation infrastructure. This covers eight categories that are fundamental to safety: legislation, organization, licensing, operations, airworthiness, accident investigation, air navigation (air traffic control) and airports.
The system supporting commercial air travel in North America has a score of 93 percent. The worst performer is Africa, with 41 percent (Africa has by far the largest number of airlines on the European Union’s blacklist of airlines banned from flying into Europe). Asia scores 68 percent, which is a lot better but there is a huge difference in the demand for air travel in Africa and Asia.
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The easy movement of people and goods is an essential lubricant of any growing economy. Asia has the opportunity to build in little more than a decade a low-cost air travel model that it took the U.S. and Europe 40 years to realize—and we had the advantage of an already mature aviation infrastructure in place with a rigorous safety regime.
Indeed, the whole world wants to share one of the 20th century’s greatest advances: the creation of a remarkably safe international airline system. And why not? The more people get to experience other lands, other peoples, other cultures, the more the insulating barriers of nationality and culture are broken down.
But with this extraordinary transformation of expectations comes a serious responsibility: to meet that benchmark standard in the ICAO’s audit of each region’s aviation industry. So far Asia is falling far too short of that challenge.