Two DRC airlines grounded after fatal crashes

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DFRC) Transport Ministry has grounded two private airlines after a weekend plane crash killed 13 people in the second disaster since June, officials said on Wednesday.

The licence of the Great Lakes Business Company (GLBC), owner of the cargo plane that crashed on Sunday at Kongolo in Katanga Province, was suspended along with that of Karibu Airways, whose plane crashed on June 21, when one person died in the same south-eastern region.

Transport Minister Remy Henri Kuseryo Gatanga also suspended the manager of Kongolo aerodrome and the director of civil aviation in Kinshasa “pending the conclusions of an inquiry into Sunday’s accident”, a ministry statement said, while Karibu Airways pilot Isaac Besongo was stripped of his licence.

At Kongolo, GLBC’s Antonov 32 cargo plane carrying three Russian crew and 12 Congolese passengers crashed and burst into flames after trying to turn round shortly after take-off, apparently because of engine trouble.

The only survivors were a young Congolese man and a two-year-old boy, both among those thrown from the plane when it hit the ground and later taken to hospital, local authorities said.

In June’s accident, all but one of the 25 people aboard the plane survived since it ploughed down into swampland after taking off from Kamina headed for the provincial capital Lubumbashi, but four people were badly injured.

The GLBC, based in the eastern Nord-Kivu province where the Antonov had been headed, is on a UN list of people and businesses targeted by sanctions for the transport of arms and ammunition in the DRC, a vast nation whose people endured a rebel and regional wars fought on its soil from 1998 to 2003.

Parts of the east are still prey to violence and serious human rights abuses.

Air transport provided by more than 50 private firms as well as the national carrier is a widespread but often perilous means of long-distance travel, apart from waterways, for much of the fleet consists of old aircraft imported back in the Soviet era. Some fly unlicensed and maintenance is poor.

The European Union in July updated a blacklist that now extends to all but one of these private DRC air firms, banning any flights by their planes in EU airspace.
The exception is Hewa Bora Airways.—Sapa-AFP

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