As aviation recovery builds up following the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, African DGCAs and their regional and global partners are regrouping to strive for aviation oversight system development in Africa.
The 7th Africa and Indian Ocean (AFI) Week in Abuja, Nigeria, outlined these tremendous efforts to strengthen safety, security, training and ecological responsiveness. And Mr. Juan Carlos Salazar, ICAO Secretary General, now plays a key role in Africa’s renewed efforts. He reveals exciting details in this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business Journal.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions severely affected the aviation sector and ICAO meetings and activities, and the 7th AFI Aviation Week is the first major face-to-face ICAO major event since early 2020. Having attended the event in Abuja Nigeria, and the vibrant discussions, what is your impression of Africa’s efforts to recover the aviation sector and improve state safety oversight systems?
A: The pandemic severely affected the world and the aviation system which connects it. This had obvious implications for ICAO’s ongoing outreach and support to the African States, including with respect to in-person gatherings and on-site implementation support to States. Despite these unprecedented challenges, however, ICAO has continued to deliver on its overall work programme and objectives for the African States, thanks in no small part to the very hard work and adaptive agility of the four ICAO Regional Offices which serve this very dynamic continent.
The impressions I was left with from the face-to-face 7th AFI Aviation week, hosted this year by Nigeria, were mainly that the potential for aviation and related socio-economic growth in Africa remains among the highest in the world, and that both governments and industry are determined and committed to accelerating recovery of this continent’s air connectivity.
It was apparent from the very lively deliberations at the efficiently organized AFI Week events that all stakeholders are engaged in realizing a sustainable recovery for African air transport, beginning with better-equipped and ICAO compliant State safety and security oversight systems, and a greater focus on how countries can combine their resources through cooperative regional oversight mechanisms to offset the related financial burdens and share in the progress which results. Some key challenges to be addressed as we strive toward those goals include a continuing lack of financial resources, inadequately qualified personnel, and insufficient prioritization of air transport needs among national master planners.
This is especially important when we consider how air transport vitality supports so many other segments of States’ economies, and therefore the speed and sustainability of their overall pandemic recoveries.
Collaboration and contributions by all parties, and total commitment and support from governments, donors, development partners, and financial institutions, are how we will overcome these obstacles to African prosperity. This 7th AFI Week was the perfect opportunity to bring new focus and new energy to this dynamic in an increasingly post-COVID world, and we were very grateful for the high levels of political will and engagement which were on display.
Q: As air traffic recovers and traffic increases, the priority of maintaining robust aviation Security globally and in Africa becomes a reality; considering that Africa has persistently faced challenges of terrorism threats with the potential to affect the air transport industry, what is ICAO doing to support the mitigation of the inherent and anticipated threats?
A: Aviation Security and the facilitation of passenger movements are important and reciprocal priorities in air transport. Together they comprise one of the most important Strategic Objectives of ICAO, and in terms of preventing international terrorism more specifically, ICAO coordinates closely in these areas with relevant law enforcement stakeholders and other UN agencies through the United Nations Countering Terrorist Travel Programme.
Our agency’s efforts in this area have been guided by consecutive amendments to the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) contained in Annex 9 to the Chicago Convention, which focuses directly on facilitating passenger travel.
In addition to Annex 17 – Security provisions, Annex 9 SARPs serve as important tools in support of improved travel security and cover critical areas of government responsibility relating to air transport facilitation and security priorities. These are set out in relevant ICAO annexes, and support the corresponding priorities defined in UN Security Council resolutions 2178, 2309, 2368, and 2396 in relation to Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs).
ICAO Annexes 9 and 17 reflect many standards and recommended practices in line with the relevant UNSC resolutions. These are further supported by the detailed guidance ICAO develops for States to help assure their effective implementation.
From this perspective, we can appreciate that ICAO’s auditing and monitoring activities for aviation security also provide a helpful view on the status of related UNSC resolutions, and in aid of the assistance and support, we may need to tailor for States.
Africa has proactively positioned itself to address and improve all aspects of State aviation security activities through the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Security and Facilitation in Africa, also known as the ‘AFI SECFAL Plan’. This ICAO programme was launched in 2015 and is dedicated to providing State-specific assistance based on needs as identified through ICAO Audits and ICAO Regional office missions.
During this year’s AFI Week activities, I was greatly encouraged to hear the report provided during the 11th AFI SECFAL Plan Steering Committee meeting, which reflected some significant new progress and achievements.
Q: Connectivity in Africa is very poor and the challenge has resulted in high travel costs, and inconvenient travel experiences, hindering the aviation growth on the continent; the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) was launched in 2018 to address this impediment but its implementation is still very slow. What do you think can be done to stimulate and spur the attainment of the SAATM goals?
A: Prior to the pandemic, Africa accounted for roughly 3% of global air traffic. This wasn’t equitable by any means, considering the size and population of the continent. Even despite that low market share, however, the air transport sector here still supported almost seven million jobs and generated more than 72 billion dollars in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In order to promote air connectivity, governments in the region can contribute by strengthening the regulatory and technical capability of their CAAs, adopting long term vision and planning that address individual factors that hinder the viability of air connectivity, such as infrastructure needs, lowering high taxes, etc., and more importantly facilitating the access of investments to the civil aviation sector.
For example, the push to shift aviation to Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) presents an unprecedented opportunity for AFI region to attract investments and enter the production of SAFs, with better conditions than in many other regions in the world. ICAO is willing to provide the needed support to facilitate all this.
By steadily enhancing regional and global connectivity continent-wide through visionary initiatives such as the African Union’s Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) being led by the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), air transport can recover this lost prosperity and connectivity, and foster far more substantial economic growth in Africa in terms of enhanced travel and tourism and other vital trade activities.
All of this activity is fundamental to the aspirations and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and these factors are especially relevant to the many Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Africa, for which aviation connectivity is an essential economic lifeline.
ICAO has therefore been deeply supportive of the SAATM initiative, which we see as a major step in enabling the Yamoussoukro Decision’s fuller potential, and in concretely advancing the implementation and objectives of the AU Agenda 2063.
The majority of African States have committed to the SAATM, but its operationalization is still not being optimized. It is therefore imperative for African States to implement the SAATM if the objectives and goals of increased connectivity and reduced air travel costs are to be achieved.
ICAO is available to provide assistance and technical support to guide the efforts and initiatives of all concerned, and I must re-emphasize here that the realization of the AfCFTA goals can only be attained by providing dependable and affordable access to ICAO-compliant international air services in Africa.
Q: Environmental protection and sustainability are critical for mankind, food security, and the survival of global Aviation; in this regard, Environment protection is one of the five (5) ICAOs Strategic objectives through initiatives that will reduce the contribution of aviation to the devastation of nature, how can Africa respond or participate in finding lasting solutions to this precarious challenge?
A: Since I was appointed as Secretary General of ICAO last year, I have made it my key priority to support the sector’s pandemic recovery and reconnect the world, while keeping vigilant on our long-term strategies to support the development of safe, secure, and – crucially – sustainable air transport.
While air transport has been widely recognized in the past as a ‘hard-to-decarbonize’ sector, it feels to me like the conversation has shifted. Stakeholders are focusing much less today on the “only 2%” of global emissions that aviation contributes, and much more on what everyone can and must do about it.
Much of our sector’s near-term response to the climate challenge will rely on lower-carbon and Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), more efficient operations and flow management, improved and innovative aircraft technology, and the global offsetting to be managed under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).
The AFI region has the conditions in place to attract investments and enter the production of SAF with a competitive advantage, and that will greatly contribute to the environmental goals of the civil aviation sector. This is the Region of hope!
ICAO continues to encourage aviation and clean energy innovators to come together to discuss and share their progress, through dedicated events we’ve established for that purpose, and we’re actively encouraging increased investment in sustainable aviation fuels.
We’ve also taken the lead on many important aviation emissions capacity-building initiatives and partnerships, recognizing that many States that are determined to take action need both technical and financial support in order to succeed.
African States can contribute to this progress on air transport sustainability by signing on to our CORSIA global emissions offsetting program as soon as possible, by developing concrete national State Action Plans on aviation CO2 reduction initiatives in line with ICAO’s global Action Plan initiative, and by investing in modernized infrastructure to help mitigate and eventually eliminate emissions at airports and achieve much more efficient and direct flight operations.
They can also come to ICAO’s 41st Assembly this September with a strong and unified African voice for higher environmental ambition, when they take part in the planned discussions with other world States on the new ICAO Long-term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) for international aviation CO2 emissions.
Q: ICAO has taken leadership in many aspects globally and particularly in Africa, in guiding the implementation of processes to harmonize and ease safe, secure, and cost-effective travel, with a seamless passenger experience; what message is ICAO planning to send out at the upcoming 41st Assembly, regarding its leadership of the fast-evolving aviation industry that requires an innovative approach even as Unmanned Aircraft systems exponentially increase in Africa?
A: We’ve already established ‘Innovation’ and ‘Resilience’ as the key themes to help guide State discussions at this year’s Assembly, and with a strong subtext of sustainability informing each of them.
Countries will be discussing wide-ranging topics there that will be determining how we build back better in aviation, with near- and long-term implications for the global climate, the digital transformation toward a contactless passenger and security experience, and the ongoing safe integration of unmanned and other new aircraft types into both traditional and non-traditional airspace, among many other issues.
In addition to the guiding themes we’ve established, I’d also suggest that the very serious issues at stake will demand particularly high levels of vision and ambition from the A41 participants as they work toward consensus.
Aviation connectivity means too much to the world, whether culturally, economically, or logistically, and it’s critical at this point that ICAO provides a more efficient and effective forum for States, industry, and civil society to jointly redefine how flight can continue to fulfill its essential roles in a more sustainable world.