Historically, the aviation industry in the ESAF Region was the envy of the world for almost 4 decades from the 1930s to1960s. The aviation growth and routes across the region from Ethiopia to East Africa, “Federation of Rhodesia” (now Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), and South Africa became global templates.
This story could also be told for the regional airline consolidation strategy to become vibrant, with the likes of East African Airways and Air Afrique which are but some of the many examples cited as global models that joined Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways to dominate the Africa skies in the 1970s and early 1980s. Truth be told, this glory was slowly lost.
The last eighteen months has been a roller coaster for the world and the aviation sector in Africa, and even ESAF Region has received its fair part of the COVID-19 pandemic unprecedented impact.
Never before has one phenomenon undermined the aspirations to comply with all necessary aviation requirements, maintain vigilance to achieve targets and goals like in the current times. Nonetheless, we must applaud all stakeholders and players for holding steadfast the virtues of ensuring that Aviation safety and security are not compromised come pandemic or not.
Aviation safety standards are developed and implemented on a very strong foundation and anchored on a robust, tested ICAO Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation of 1944. The drive to maintain safety globally is premised on the Convention, its nineteen Annexes to the Convention, national regulations, and best practices.
In the spirit of keeping in pace with the rest of the world and even striding ahead to combat the negative perception of aviation safety two decades ago, Africa has made tremendous efforts and the Eastern and Southern African Region has not been left behind.
In the wisdom and foresight of prominent aviation professionals and leaders, the Africa and Indian Ocean (AFI) Region has spurred ahead in terms of goals and targets stipulated in the Global Aviation Safety Plan and catapulted to establish regional targets for both aviation safety and security. In their endeavor to meet global targets or even surpass them, the ambitious Abuja safety and Windhoek Security targets have been established for AFI Region. Most States have remarkably progressed from positions of significant safety and security concerns to making firm statements as some of the leading States in effectively implementing State aviation systems.
The aviation safety agenda is adorable, appealing, and sweet music to many ears, and yet it requires commitment, resources, integrity, and focused will to achieve and maintain. Furthermore, as has been perceived for decades, aviation is, and rightly so, one of the most highly regulated industries all for the sake of preserving the most precious asset – LIFE. Spearheading the drive to ensure the highest safety standards in wanting circumstances is no mean task, but ICAO has a strong and dedicated team that has collaboratively lived beyond the call of duty.
The ICAO Strategy to adopt a continent-wide approach with the ESAF/WACAF Regional Offices providing secretariat support to the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plans for Aviation Safety and Security in Africa (AFI Plan and AFI SECFAL Plan) has come to fruition. The realization of some of the targets and significant progress in the majority of goals have been a joint effort with all actors such as the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Regional Safety Oversight Organizations (RSOOs), BAGAIA, European Union (EU), Airports Council International (ACI), Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO), International Air Transport Association (IATA), African Airlines Association (AFRAA), and ICAO Headquarters, etc., to assist States and various service providers.
The adrenaline at the ICAO Regional offices is generated from the desire to walk the talk, and transforming declarations and protocols into tangible action stimulates long-lasting results. Braving the COVID-19 storm to evade the capsizing of the aviation sector and the enormous challenges faced by States to comply with the safety standards and other provisions stipulated in the ICAO Annexes has been a painful and uphill task. However, through the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) recommendation and takeoff guidance measures, together with the African Union High-level Task Force recommendation, and other ICAO tools, States have been able to pave a defined recovery path and hopefully a foundation to build a resilient safety regime in the future.
Finally, to unleash the potential and establish a strong aviation safety framework able to maintain and even exceed global/regional targets in post-pandemic era, requires robust systems founded on collaborative and cooperative platforms to proactively withstand shocks and address inherent and imminent challenges.
Aviation safety and security are not only critical elements for the reincarnation of aviation and reigniting threatened public confidence but are essential for the realization of AU flagship initiatives of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and other AU Agenda 2063 goals, towards free movement of persons. As the saying goes, “together we stand, divided we fall”!