Exactly ten years ago on a cool November morning a WFP chartered twin prop aircraft lifted off from Rome's Ciampino airport en route to Pristina, Kosovo. Onboard were WFP staff, Italian citizens and personnel from several other humanitarian organizations including several from the United Nation Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). All had just made their way out of the city, along the roadway which cordons Rome and were on their way to a busy day inside the recent war zone.
It was only months before that the fighting had ceased between Serbian nationals and Kosovar Albanians. The country was still raw from the fighting and that morning's passengers were some of the earliest arrivals helping to rebuild the shattered country. A short while later, after the flight had entered the airspace above Kosovo and as it made adjustments for its final approach, the plane dropped of the radar and disappeared without a trace. The aircraft would be found by search and rescue teams later that day on hilly terrain dotted with land mines near the Serbian border, a short distance from the town of Mitrovica. All 21 passengers and 3 crew perished in the crash.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, which was later determined by French Accident Investigator Office (BEA) to be the result of a combination of organizational failures, human error and equipment limitations, the aviation unit at WFP undertook a rigorous review of its aviation contracting and operational procedures. At the same time the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) began a review of UN aviation standards and the joint effort produced what are now known as the United Nations Aviation Standards (AVSTADS), a set of standards which now apply to all humanitarian and peacekeeping air operations. The past decade has seen the implementation and the relentless application of these standards to all aspects of WFP's aviation activities. As a result, the World Food Programme UN's Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) has been able to reduce the risk in its operational environment.
The unit responsible for the review of all air companies providing services to UN's Humanitarian Air Service is the World Food Programme Aviation Safety Unit (ASU) located at WFP headquarters in Rome. With satellite offices in Nairobi, Johannesburg and Sharjah, UAE the unit is overseen by the Chief of ASU, Cesar Arroyo. Cesar and his staff of aviation specialists monitor all aspects of WFP air operations on a daily basis including passenger and cargo flights at over 400 airstrips, helicopter sites and international airports around the world.
As a result of the unit's hard work they were recently recognized by the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) for their outstanding efforts and awarded the FSF's President's Citation. At an award ceremony in Beijing on November 3rd Cesar Arroyo received the award on behalf of ASU and WFP as a whole stating,
"Today, air operators chartered by the WFP have moved from “survival mode” to implementing the industry’s best practices. And, every single aircraft is equipped with a satellite tracking system, traffic collision avoidance systems, and EGPWS - even in small planes such as Cessna Caravans. Pilots are proud to be properly trained and aircraft maintenance is done by appropriately authorized maintenance organizations."
This award, received almost ten years to the day after the tragic crash in Kosovo, shows how seriously ASU has taken their responsibility and the extent to which they will go to in order to honor the memories of their fallen fellow staff members. Today, we celebrate ASU and all they have achieved.