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Safety Regulations and Liability Schemes in the Civil Aviation Laws
13. March 2019 at 09:00
Ethiopian Airlines which offers African world-class air transport services faces a shocking aerial accident on 10th March 2019. The accident become the top breaking news and headline of the major global media (here, here, and here) and different speculations are given as to the causes of the accident. This fact forced this author to explore the safety regulations and liability schemes in the international civil aviation laws.

10th March 2019: The Darkest Day on the Ethiopian Airspace 

The globe noticed an appalling airplane crash which has claimed the lives of 149 passengers and 8 cabin crew members on board. This an unprecedented accident occurred on the Ethiopian Airlines flight number ET302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya. The accident befallen shortly after the takeoff. Just 6 minutes of a takeoff.  

As confirmed from the Ethiopian Airlines( Accident Bulletin no.4) passengers from 35 nationalities were on board, Kenyans being the majority of all. The aircraft is a Boeing manufactured which was received by the Ethiopian Airlines by 15th February 2018. The plane was a recently delivered Boeing 737-800Max

The pilot had reported difficulties to the flight controllers and he secured clearance to return back to its departing cite, Bole International Airport. Unfortunately the flight lost connections from the radar just after 6 minutes. The tragic accident become the world’s biggest breaking news by 10th March 2019. It was the prime minster office of Ethiopia which announces such a tragic accident before all media outlets.

The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines made a press brief after his back form the scene of the accident. Accordingly he mentioned the cleanness of the aircraft which departed with no remarks as arrived from Johannesburg, South Africa before a day with no remarks. The Pilot in command was a half Ethiopian and half Kenyan, as explained by the CEO. The Pilot was also a well-trained flight professional with an excellent flight record. As to the cause of the crash, the CEO recommend to wait the international investigation which could involve the Boeing, the manufacturer of the crashed aircraft.

Now, the international community raised questions as to the cause(s) of the accident. Besides other speculations, there are utterance pointed towards Boeing, the manufacturer. Allegations are justified because of the fact that the same aircraft (Boeing 737-800Max), registered by the Indonesian Lion Air, went down on 29th October 2018.  Boeing, while passing its condolence to the families of the victims and the people and government of Ethiopia, announces its readiness to take part in the investigation.

Pending investigation and the result thereof, this paper attempts to  illustrate the safety regulations and liability schemes embodied under different international civil aviation laws including the Ethiopian civil aviation law.     

International Civil Aviation Laws on Safety Regulations  and Liability Schemes

The Chicago Convention is the pioneer international instrument in the regulation of civil aviation at international level. This convention opened for signature on 7th December 1944. The convention came into existence in order that international civil aviation may be developed in a safe and orderly manner and that international air transport services may be established on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically.

The scope of application of the Chicago convention is limited to civil aircrafts. It doesn’t applicable to state aircraft. State aircrafts are  aircrafts used for military, customs and police services.   

 The prohibition of operating non-scheduled international air service; prohibition of an aircraft without a pilot over the territory of contracting states; contracting state’s right to restrict or prohibit another aircrafts from flying over the whole or any part of its territory in times of emergency; the duty to take effective measures to prevent the spread by means of air navigation of cholera, typhus, smallpox, yellow fever, plague and other communicable diseases; the prohibition of photographic apparatus in aircraft.

Moreover, every aircraft engaged in international navigation shall carry documents such as; certificate of registration; certificate of airworthiness, licenses for each member of the crew, journey log book, the aircraft radio station license, list of names and places of embarkation and destination of passengers.

Pilots and other members of the operating crew of every aircraft shall be provided with certificates of competency and licenses issued by the state in which the aircraft is registered.  

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), as established by article 43 of the Chicago Convention, is the governing body of international air navigation.

The primary liability for damages sustained by aerial accidents rests upon the country in whose name the aircraft is registered or the carrier. The 1929 Warsaw Convention for the unification of certain rules relating to international carriage by air. Article 17 of this convention reads as   “The carrier is liable for damage sustained in the event of the death or wounding of a passenger or any other bodily injury suffered by a passenger, if the accident which caused the damage so sustained took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.”  The Montreal Convention of 1999 reiterates Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention as far as the liability of the carrier for the damage sustained by the passenger is concerned.

Ethiopia’s Civil Aviation Law

Coming to the Ethiopian civil aviation laws, there is proclamation number 616/2008 in addition to the above-mentioned international civil aviation laws. This proclamation sets safety regulations and liability schemes. The proclamation is designed “for a better regulation of civil aviation to meet the needs for a safe, secure, regular, efficient and economic civil aviation system.” In its endeavor the proclamation basis on the standards and recommended practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization.  

Among other things the proclamation incorporate certificate of airworthiness to be issued by Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (Article 24 of the proclamation); issuance of communications equipment (Article 25); the need to maintain journey logbook( Article 27); documents to be carried on board( Article 28); Duty of operators and aviation personnel( Article 29); duty of inspection( Article 30); the power of the authority to prevent flight where the aircraft is not airworthy; the flight crew member is not qualified or is physically or mentally incapable to conduct the flight; the operation may cause imminent danger to persons or property in the aircraft or on the ground; Designation of Pilot-in-Command and Second in- Command( Article 48);

As to the liability of carriers, Article 69 of the proclamation reads as “The liability of any air carrier for damage caused to passengers and cargo on board the aircraft or during embarking or disembarking operations shall be governed by the rules and limitations contained in the international legal instruments to which Ethiopia is a party.”

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) has the power to investigate of aircraft accidents and incidents (Article 88). It initiate promptly the conduct of an objective and impartial inquiry into the circumstances of any civil aircraft accident or incident occurring in Ethiopia and issue investigation reports; participate in the investigation of accidents or incidents involving an aircraft registered in Ethiopia and occurring in the territory of a foreign country, in accordance with any applicable treaty or other arrangement between Ethiopia and the country in whose territory the accident occurred; in the event of accident or incident involving an aircraft registered in another state, permit observers duly appointed by such other state to be present at the inquiry and communicate any final report or findings to such other state. Any report of the Authority relating to aircraft accident or incident investigation or any part thereof, shall not be admitted as evidence in any suit for damages arising out of any matter mentioned in such report.

Given to the safety track record of the Ethiopian Airlines and the confirmation of the CEO of the Ethiopian Airlines as to the cleanness of the aircraft while departing from Addis Ababa, the cause of the accident is expected to be the inherent technical problems attributed to the manufacturer, Boeing. The same aircraft (Boeing 737-Max 8) has crashed in Indonesia and it claimed the lives of 189 passengers and cabin crew.

Pending investigation, this author alleges that the tragic accident happened for reasons which could not be detected by the normal safety check system of the aviation.    

Hence, if the words of the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines remains true as to the cleanness of the aircraft before its departure and the investigation result confirms this fact, Boeing Company would be liable for the losses ensued from the aerial accident of 10th March 2019. 

Cite This Article As: Dejen Yemane Messele . "Safety Regulations and Liability Schemes in the Civil Aviation Laws ." International Youth Journal, 13. March 2019.

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