In Flight – The UN’s Air Transport Program in the World’s Newest Country

South Sudan – officially the Republic of South Sudan – is a landlocked country in northeastern Africa and is the most recently formed state having gained sovereignty on 9 July 2011.

As it continues to suffer from internal conflict, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was established as a peacekeeping mission.

The most recently formed sovereign state on 9 July 2011 – continues to suffer from internal conflict.

As of December 2013, it is composed of 5,884 civilian, 5,508 military, and 376 police personnel and is headquartered in the South Sudanese capital, Juba.

Amongst many other things, the UNMISS provide air transport in support of mandate implementation and to support other United Nations missions and agencies.  Air assets operate in four regions, namely Juba, Wau, Malakal and Rumbek.

The budget for air operations for the fiscal year 2011/12 was $139.8 million. UNMISS was operating nine fixed wing and 23 rotary wing aircraft.

From 9 July 2011 to 30 June 2012, UNMISS managed 6,773 flights, at a cost of $100 million (excluding cost for ground time), of which 3,505 or (52 per cent) were recorded as special flights costing about $57 million. These special flights were mainly used for military tasks, cargo flights and to support the Government of South Sudan.

A recent United Nations Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS) report provides a fascinating window into the challenges that exist in ensuring basic controls in such an environment. In what is unusually blunt terms the report notes:

The UNMISS governance, risk management and control processes examined were assessed as unsatisfactory in providing reasonable assurance regarding the effective management of UNMISS air transport.

UNMISS had not implemented adequate procedures to ensure that:

  • air tasking documents were completed to provide assurance that all operational and safety requirements had been complied with; and
  • special flights scheduled were justified and properly authorized in advance to ensure that critical security risk mitigating measures were completed.

UNMISS also needed to improve:

  • flight scheduling to achieve maximum utilization of seating capacity of air assets
  • data recording for preparing monthly aviation reports to support payments to contractors
  • the time taken to recover costs for services provided to third parties
  • documentation to support medical evacuation flights for non-UNMISS passengers.

It is easy to dismiss this report – due to the extremely challenging context in which the UNMISS has to operate – as not being relevant to anyone other than those that are in a similar situation.

Such a narrow view would miss the basic lessons that the OIOS report seeks to articulate.

The relevance of this report is to any organisation that manages the air transportation of their employees or cargo – either with their own assets or, more likely, via commercial carriers.


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