Mr. Prosper Zo’o Minto’o, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Regional Director for West and Central Africa (WACAF), says safety is priority amidst COVID-19 recovery efforts. In this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business Journal, he calls for more cooperative action to sustain the industry.
Q: You became the Regional Director of ICAO WACAF about a year ago. How would you describe the aviation industry in West and Central Africa, seen as the most under-developed aviation sub-regions in Africa?
A:Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the aviation system– including States’ oversight capabilities and the air transport industry was at different levels of development in the region. The aviation sector has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to travel restrictions, borders closure and other mitigations measures promulgated by States, making it difficult to make an accurate description of the industry which is currently in the restart phase.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has hit aviation hardest, but ICAO has developed a re-start plan; how far has this guideline been adopted in WACAF region and what is your outlook for recovery in the Africa region?
A:For the first six months of 2020, international passenger numbers in Africa declined by approximately 24 million and, according to the latest ICAO estimates, this figure could amount to as many as 54 million fewer passengers in total in Africa this year, compared to normal, pre-COVID periods.
The scale of these impacts helps us to appreciate the critical need to establish a strong foundation for standardized regional protocols for the restart and recovery of aviation connectivity, as this will be critical to restoring air transport and economic capacity, and to keeping passengers safe and secure.
At its 220th Session, the ICAO Council approved the CART Report and its annexed ‘Take-off: Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis’ document – referred to as the ‘Take-off guidance document’. The CART Report contains 10 principles for a harmonized international approach to aviation restart and recovery efforts, and 11 recommendations addressed to Member States. In addition, the Take-off guidance document contains risk mitigation measures to reduce public health risk to air passengers and aviation workers while strengthening confidence among the travelling public – generally applicable measures as well as measures applicable to specific ‘airport, aircraft, crew and cargo modules’. Western and Central African States have fully adopted the provisions of the CART report.
Q: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, ICAO was driving initiatives to improve safety and security standards and performance in Africa; how can States ensure that safety and security targets are on course in Africa amidst frenzied efforts to contain the pandemic?
A: In line with the ‘No Country Left Behind’ (NCLB) initiative, ICAO has established the Comprehensive Implementation plan for aviation safety in Africa (AFI Plan), and the Comprehensive Implementation Plan for aviation security and facilitation in Africa (AFI SECFAL Plan) which are capacity building initiatives aimed to enhance aviation safety and security performance in the region. Under these programmes, the Regional Offices continue to provide assistance to States, synergistically with the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the African Union Specialized Agency for aviation and Regional Safety and Security Oversight Organizations (RSOOs).
Due to travel restrictions, border closures and other mitigation measures promulgated by States, most of the assistance activities are provided remotely through webinars to address training needs, use of a portfolio of online tools and electronic platforms, including teleconferencing. Assistance activities requiring on-site interventions will be deployed gradually, depending on the evolution of the situation.
Q: The industry has called on African governments to provide financial support to power up aviation recovery while also urging States to open up international borders, are you comfortable with the response so far from States?
A: The CART recommendations include measures related to aviation safety, security and facilitation, aviation public health, as well as economic and financial measures calling for States support. These measures have been fully endorsed by the African Union Commission (AUC) High Level Task Force on the restart and recovery of the aviation sector in Africa (HLTF), which is coordinated by the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC).
The efforts being made by some States and regional economic communities (RECs) in support of the restart and recovery of the aviation sector are commendable. ICAO is working closely with regional institutions to mobilize resources and support implementation packages, in addition to individual and sub-regional initiatives.
Q: The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is invaluable to Africa’s aviation and economic development; how would you think African States could resolve the persistent challenge of high taxes and unfavourable economic policy environment that stifle African airlines expansion in the region?
A: In 1988, African Aviation Ministers crafted a vision for the African aviation industry, then known as the Yamoussoukro Declaration on a New African Air Transport Policy. Ten years later, they elaborated concrete measures for ensuring the liberalization of air transport markets in Africa through the Decision Relating to the Implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration concerning the Liberalization of Access to Air Transport Markets in Africa, also known as the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD).
The ICAO Regional Offices accredited to African States are working very closely with the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) which is the Executing Agency for the YD, and the SAATM is a flagship project of African Union’s Agenda 2063, that seeks to address the challenge of connectivity and high air transport fares through the full implementation of the YD.
The benefits associated with the establishment of the SAATM include – but are not limited to – an increase in flight availability, greater inter-regional connectivity between various cities in the continent, important reduction in travel costs and efficiency gains at airports. With the expected traffic growth airlines will be able to carry more passengers and freight, and improve their profitability.
Q: Economic recovery post-pandemic is largely dependent on aviation system recovery to provide smooth interconnectivity in Africa; are you concerned over the capacity of the continent to produce adequate aviation professionals to drive the emerging technologically-driven present and future aviation industry?
A:The full compliance of the civil aviation system with ICAO SARPs and national regulations requires adequate resources, including sufficient duly trained and qualified personnel. This applies across the board: regulatory authorities, air operators, airport operators, air navigation service providers, etc.
ICAO audit programmes have highlighted the need for States to establish training policies, programmes and plans to meet the demand of a growing industry and cope with the evolution of aviation technologies. For example, the operational improvements to be achieved, the aviation system block upgrades (ASBUs) to address the forecasted doubling of air traffic in the next 15 years, rely on the ability to implement, operate and maintain sophisticated technology roadmaps for communications, navigation, surveillance, information management and avionics.
ICAO assists States in developing and implementing effective strategies to attract, educate, and retain the next generation of civil aviation professionals based on their needs. A training roadmap has been developed for Africa by the Association of African Aviation Training Organizations (AATO) with the assistance of ICAO through the AFI Plan and the Global Aviation Training Office (GAT).
Proper development implementation of such strategies combined with adequate human resources capacity building programmes, should enable the continent to produce adequate aviation professionals to drive the emerging technologically-driven present and future aviation industry.
Q: How would you assess the No Country Left Behind project of ICAO in Africa so far?
A:The No Country Left Behind (NCLB) initiative focuses on ICAO’s support to States for globally harmonized implementation of SARPs so that all States have access to the significant socio-economic benefits of a safe and reliable aviation system. Activities undertaken by ICAO in this framework include promoting and advising governments on the benefits of aviation for their national aspirations;facilitating the mobilization of resources in cooperation with development banks, funds and other financial institutions; and partnering with international organizations on matters of mutual interest.
The initiative has been instrumental to enhancing States’ safety and security systems. Over the past few years, many States have received Council President Certificatesinstituted in 2016, which are designed to highlight and encourage significant State achievements in the effective implementation of ICAO’s international Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) for civil aviation.
These outstanding achievements are attributable to NCLB assistance provided to States under theICAO AFI Plan, AFI SECFAL Plan, andSAFE Fund projects, in synergy with AFCAC Cooperative Inspectorate Scheme (AFI CIS) and Regional Safety Oversight Organizations (RSOOs).
Q: The economy anxiously awaits global guidelines for safe integration and co-existence of UAVs and drones in the traditional manned airspace; what is the update in this regard, given the expected benefit of UAVs on economic development in Africa?
A:Nowadays, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)can be flown in a variety of configurations, and outfitted with a wide range of payloads and sensors to support their increasing humanitarian and emergency operations roles. They are also being used to monitor infrastructure and crops and for wide-ranging geological, geographical and climate-related research and development.
The African Drone Forum (ADF) held in Kigali, Rwanda in February 2020 recognized that despite the rapid expansion in unmanned aircraft technology and recognition of the benefits gained through the ease of availability, safer and cleaner operations and, therefore, more cost-effective business models, activity is currently limited by the slow pace of regulatory change globally and regionally.
To progressively address the need for global harmonization, ICAO has developed Model UAS Regulations and companion Advisory Circulars (ACs) which offer a template for Member States to implement or to supplement their existing UAS regulations based on internationally harmonized material.
ICAO has also launched an UAS Toolkit providing helpful information and resources, and serves as a platform for the exchange of global best practices, lessons learned, and effective governance approaches.
An ICAO Technical Panel coordinates and develops ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), Procedures and Guidance material for remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), to facilitate a safe, secure and efficient integration of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) into non-segregated airspace and aerodromes.
ICAO’s work is also helping focus research and development activities for required technologies and certification methods, and the development of a framework for UAS traffic management (UTM) is well underway.
Q: What is your projection for the aviation industry in Africa over the next one year in terms of recovery and sustainable growth, and what lessons have you learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic in aviation industry?
A:The situation around the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular in the civil aviation ecosystem, remains dynamic and difficult for all of us to effectively predict and manage. Notwithstanding, I remain confident that our collective efforts will pay off and enable the aviation sector to overcome the challenges faced during the COVID-19 and post COVID-19 environment.
Q: What is your word to African Airlines, Airports and CAAs as the industry strives to overcome the impact of COVID-19 and drive sustainable aviation?
A: Based on the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 environment, let’s continue to work as one aviation and show solidarity in implementing the ICAO CART recommendations and Take-off guidance for air travel through COVID-19 public health crisis, as well as the AUC/AFCAC HLTF recommendations, towards a successful restart and recovery of aviation.
States’ support is critical along this process to restore the role of aviation as catalyst to economic and social development of nations and its contribution to the achievement of the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs).