Mercy Awori is the Alternate Representative of Kenya to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). She is currently Africa’s Environment Champion and Coordinator. She has held leadership positions in the Council of ICAO as Chairperson of Human Resources Committee, Chairperson of the Air Transport Committee, Secretary and Member of the Council Ad hoc Committee, Coordinator of the Forum Group at ICAO, and Coordinator of the AFI Group & Bureau Member of AFCAC. In this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business Journal, she discusses the new Aviation Environment Plan for Africa, and local and global strategies to drive cohesive action for Africa’s aviation development.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the aviation industry including in Africa; how do you think African States can recover faster?
A: The pandemic exposed system vulnerabilities and failures globally, therefore recovery of the industry requires concerted effort of all stakeholders, more so, the necessary support and calculated economic stimulus required to jumpstart the industry. However, this should be done in a way that Governments are not throwing more money at problems that remained unfixed pre-COVID-19 pandemic.
Faster recovery will require fiscal policies that internalize negative externalities and incentivize or align private sector to innovate. This may make it possible to build green for sustainability, trust, confidence and resilience.
Our States should take this global opportunity to re-think their strategies and policies to make them fit-for-purpose. Airlines may reconsider consolidation and strategic partnerships for cost reduction and scaling up operations.
Q: You have been recently appointed as the Champion and Coordinator of the AFI Aviation Environment Plan, what is this Plan expected to achieve, and what is your plan to drive the initiative?
A: The African Representatives at ICAO have continued to ably represent the interests of Africa. My appointment came earlier but was briefly interrupted by the lockdown.
However, collectively we have continued working behind the scenes to ensure that our Region is not left behind when the rest of the world is moving forward with radical action. My role will be to ensure that when the plan is adopted it is on time, on schedule and well understood.
I will continue to work for the Group and with the environment experts through the committees constituted by the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and partners to generate and disseminate information and enhance the decisions by member States when considering or implementing the Plan.
The next AFCAC plenary meeting in December 2021 will be an opportunity to look at the proposals and issues that member States consider important and determine the right path to follow, and thereafter obtain the necessary political will from the African Union. The Environment plan is envisaged to follow the path of the existing AFI Plans. Africa has resources scattered all over and with AFCAC taking its central role in this Plan it will bring all the stakeholders together. The Plan will offer Africa a platform to move together in an orderly and structured manner.
It will also provide a good entry point for implementation of Annex 16 Volume (IV) SARPs (Standard and Recommended Practices) and also prepare Africa to participate in constructive discussions and decisions on environment at ICAO.
Q: The issue of emissions has not been seen as a major priority in Africa, perhaps, given the low level of aircraft movement and related emissions as compared to other regions, among others; how do you hope to get the commitment and support of States and other stakeholders in this new emissions initiative?
A: Climate change will affect countries irrespective of their contribution to it. The urgency of Climate change requires all sectors and countries to transition fast to greener options. Air transport in Africa is projected to grow annually over the next decade by around 3-4%; accordingly, we should see emissions reduction as important.
Therefore it is in our interest to take advantage of this global opportunity for decisive action, using it as an opportunity for green recovery, for example, by positioning Africa as a major provider of clean energy sources.
Africa is uniquely positioned for solar, wind, hydro and bio energy production. We have the land, natural resources, climate to thrive in this area, and not only be self-sufficient with clean energy but also take a leading position and becoming a main player. Proactive transition planning will provide a coherent accountable framework that will help our African countries have common positions on issues of mutual interest and forums for dialogues and exchange of information.
Q: A number of organizations in Africa are known to be involved in efforts to develop alternative aviation fuel; how do you plan to work with or encourage such initiatives in Africa?
A: Sustainable Aviation fuel (SAF)is a key element for any plan for the decarbonization of aviation globally, there is a major momentum for accelerating its development and deployment. We are incentivizing the feasibility studies that will indicate the most appropriate feedstocks. Each State is now looking at it through its ICAO State action plan to reduce emissions and we are looking for partners to engage in this area.
Kenya was fortunate to have a pilot project under the ICAO-EU assistance project on a feasibility study on alternative fuel identifying its main sources of feedstocks. The platform we have through the plan will also encourage exchange of information on how these studies can be progressed to the next level. It may be a hard grind to implement but having a common platform will put our States in place where funding projects can be jointly sourced.
We also are mindful that aviation is a global activity and we need to have a level playing field so that the approaches and criteria for the sustainability of these fuels as well as the methods for accounting their life cycle benefits are harmonized.
We are supportive of this work through ICAO as it will be with a robust global framework that we will be able to advance without being imposed on rules and regulations at different regions. Access to the latest information and capacity building is paramount as the pace of development in SAF is very intense. Creating the SAF culture will be a major achievement for Africa.
Q: How would you assess the impact of the African region at the ICAO in terms of boosting Africa’s visibility in global civil aviation?
A: ICAO had its first African President after almost 70 years – which was quite significant -who was instrumental in a number of programs including negotiating the environment agreement CORSIA and the No Country Left Behind agenda which has been impactful. The Representation of Africa at ICAO has been significant and our Representatives hold key leadership positions in the Governing bodies and Committees of the Council.
Currently, as ICAO continues to provide necessary leadership on industry recovery and guidance to Member States through the Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) initiative which has been hailed. We are grateful to ICAO President, Salvatore Sciacchitano, and it is honoring for Africa, that this initiative is being chaired by Equatorial Guinea, working together with key stakeholders including IATA, ACI, CANSO, WHO, amongst others.
Q: Are you satisfied with the level of the effective implementation (EI) of ICAO Critical Elements (CE) of Safety by African States so far, and how can Africa get more States achieve above the global average of effective implementation (EI) of these critical safety elements?
A: The AFI Plan is on the right path, with great leadership from both the past chairmen and current Chairman, South Africa. In 2009, we only had 10 African States which were above the world average of 60%. By April 2021, the number had increased to 32. These are the results of the intervention of the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa (AFI Plan), which was adopted by the 36th ICAO Assembly (Assembly Resolution A36-1).
Although I would prefer all African States to have achieved an EI of 60% by now, it is worth to acknowledge the strides achieved through the intervention of the AFI Plan. The CEs that have been identified to require more work for such CEs, the AFI Plan has State-specific Plans of Action aimed at assisting those States that are below 60% to achieve at least 60% and to continuously improve the level of EI as well as implementation of SMS. What we must continue to observe is sustainability to guard against States slipping back and ensure countries continue to move up the scale.
Q: There are strong opinions that aviation needs to be demystified in Africa to enable governments provide enhanced support in terms of financing and infrastructure development; how can African governments and institutions be made to understand the import and benefit of air transport in Africa?
A: Aviation is one of the critical pillars of economic growth but it’s hardly given priority when it comes to financing and infrastructure development especially the air navigation infrastructure which appears invisible. Governments and institutions must be involved when planning for the sector.
IATA has provided a useful tool for measuring the impact of aviation on economic development which provides visibility into aviation contribution to the GDP, jobs and tax revenue. Civil Aviation Authorities should encourage such studies and also work collaboratively with other sectors and their lawmakers for better understanding of the sector. This approach is useful in provision of the right incentives, regulations, policies and enabling environment for the sector.
Q: Your positions and performance at ICAO are symbolic for African women; do you think African and particularly Kenyan women are encouraged enough to toe your line?
A: Women have made great strides over the years but there are still gaps at leadership levels. More needs to be done to enable the advancement of women into important leadership positions and roles in global aviation and aerospace sector.
Being the first African woman to sit on the Council and Chair various Committees of the Council and to be named one of the 70 women inspiring the generations of aviation professionals is humbling. These opportunities have placed responsibilities on us to serve and to break barriers for the next generation and younger women who will come after us.
To this end, we made sure that we institutionalized this possibility when Kenya, Australia, Japan, Nicaragua, Poland, Portugal and UAE presented a working paper to provide for gender equality in the governing bodies of ICAO and in Member States, which became a Council decision and adopted by the 193 Member States as ICAO Resolution A39-30 and which the Secretary General of ICAO has progressed.
This now gives all Member States the opportunity to bring in more women into leadership positions and should motivate African women to take advantage of these open doors and encourages Member States to appoint more women into the governing and subsidiary bodies of ICAO.