CONGO: Antonov ban brings hardship to many

Friday, October 19, 2007

The indefinite grounding of all Antonov aircraft in the Republic of Congo has brought much of the country’s domestic aviation to a standstill and many people who depended on the sector are feeling the pinch.

The Civil Aviation Agency banned Congolese airlines from using Antonov planes on 9 October after 50 people were killed five days earlier when an Antonov crashed shortly after take-off from Kinshasa, the capital of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Life for us and our families was already hard enough,” said Just Ndouli, who made a living from the meat trade between northern parts of Congo and the capital, Brazzaville.

“Twice a week, I received parcels worth 100,000 CFA [US$218]; so I was easily able to make ends meet," he explained.

"I bet those who are on the coast will also be suffering because they made a living in the same way," added Claver Ndouali.

Business is also bad for Jules Ekoumou. “I’m stuck at home now because I don’t know what else to do. I used to take care of my family with a small business, working with a friend in Impfondo, in the northern Likouala province,” he said.

“If things don’t improve over the next few days, even my wife, whom I’m relying on now, won’t be able to sell in the market,” he added.
Those more directly involved in the aviation sector, such as baggage handlers at the capital’s Maya Maya airport, are also having a tough time.

“The future is bleak. It’ll be very hard to earn 5,000 CFA [$10] now. Before the ban, I earned 10,000 CFA [$20] on a good day,” explained father-of-three Armand Ngoyila.

Warnings ignored

In September 2005, the Congolese government warned airlines that Antonovs would be banned from July 2007, but few companies have replaced their fleet with other planes.

“Antonovs have had their day,” said Gerard Guempio, air transport adviser in the transport and aviation ministry. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, he said, Antonov plans are found all over the world, beyond the control of their manufacturer.

The large number of crashes involving Antonovs in the region, he said, was a result of inadequate maintenance.

The DRC crash was the third in less than two months.

The Congolese human rights watchdog said it approved of the ban, despite the hardship it had brought.

"It is a good decision because when these old airplanes crash, those on the ground are also at risk. Human lives must be saved,” said the executive director, Roger Bouka Owoko.

Owoko urged the government to do its job, noting that the country lacked sufficient roads, the railway linking Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire only worked intermittently and flights were becoming more infrequent.

Source: IRIN
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