Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu is Africa’s first President of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council, and the 5th President of the ICAO Council. Dr. Aliu served for spectacular two terms from 2014-2017 and re-elected 2017-2019, during which he epitomized the essence of ICAO in promoting safety, security, order and sustainability of civil aviation globally, in a refreshing way. The Nigerian-born Dr. Aliu ensured ICAO became closer to its 193 Member States through his globally celebrated ‘No Country Left Behind’ initiative. As Dr. Aliu completed his stewardship as ICAO Council President in December 2019, he recounts his outstanding achievements globally and in Africa. More importantly, he gives a hint of his next endeavours, in this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business on the sidelines of the 60th Anniversary of ASECNA in Dakar, Senegal, recently.
Q: How do you feel being here today, what do you have to say about the ASECNA 60 years anniversary?
A: ASECNA can be described as a success story, in terms of the ability of States to cooperate, to share their resources. The effort of ASECNA was recognized by ICAO in 1972 when they were awarded the Edward Warner Award. For small States, their ability to cooperate is very important because then they can achieve the economies of scale. It means that the air navigation equipment they install are common. They can do joint training, they have commonality of spares, and joint management also can reduce their overhead cost. This is what ASECNA member States have been able to do.
Of course, they were lucky that this was created just before the independence of most of the States, so they didn’t have to face the political challenges that would have been required to overcome this time.
As you can see, many African joint programmes have been difficult to implement. The conclusion of the agreements is easy, but implementation has been hampered in many instances, because States are sovereign and they have political and socio-economic issues to work through at home.
So, having been established since 1959, I notice they have waxed very strong. They have continued to approach and overcome all the challenges in the air navigation sector jointly; and it has become a reference point of collaboration among 17 States which airspace they now manage.
More recently, they have worked together with other Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) in Africa on some programmes. Few years ago, I initiated the ANSPs Peer Review Programme and I had plenty discussions with ASECNA, Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) and other air naviation service providers in Africa. I gathered them in Montreal to let them work together to start the process of reviewing each other’s performance; not an audit – but as a basis of joint collaboration. And I asked the then Director General of ASECNA to help champion the effort.
And since then they have been working together, I can see greater collaboration with the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS), the Kenya ANSP; and this is working. It is important that such collaboration continues.
You will recall that there was a declaration of ANSPs in Africa to have a single sky in 2005, here also in Senegal. The implementation was difficult. Then, when I was helping to articulate the Common African Civil Aviation Policy, again, this became one of the key issues that were promoted under the policy, but nothing happened. Africa now has an opportunity to pursue the Single Africa Sky because of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).
Q: Do you think the ANSPs in Africa are ready to support the Single African Sky?
A: You will ask the question, ‘are they ready?’ But they have to take it. They have to take the step on collaboration. You cannot get everybody ready at the same time. If you recall Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) was concluded in 1999, it took a very long time to implement. That was unfortunate. But in the last few years, you have seen the impetus and the momentum that have been given to YD implementation by the African Union under its Agenda 2063. In fact, the Single African Air Transport Market is a cardinal programme under that, which now is moving forward and many States have joined in.
I think there is a different political climate and realization within Africa of the need for States to work together. So, if you are talking of common African air transport market, the continental free trade agreement, simplification or removal of visas for free movement of people, the way to achieve that is for States to work together.
So, the ANSP Peer Review Mechanism helps to raise the level of safety amongst the ANSPs by letting them start to resolve technical issues together; and then they will be more comfortable with joint services or joint operations, and that is what the Single African Sky will lead to.
Q: Looking at the need to generate the critical mass of goods to be transported by air, how do you think this can be achieved, looking at the African Continental Free Trade Area which is still not being fully supported by some States?
A: First of all, let’s address the issues of infrastructure gaps. The meeting that ICAO organized in Abuja was very important – and we are grateful that the Nigerian government hosted it. We held that meeting in realization of the requirements to meet the growth that is expected and the modernization of air navigation and aircraft infrastructure that was expected. We realized through our own analysis, that 50% of African airports by the end of 2220 would have exceeded their installed capacity. So, if the industry is going to grow, we have to be able to have expansion, in terms of infrastructure and also modernization of infrastructure.
The same thing applies to the air navigation service provision. With the increasing movement from land-based to satellite-base facilities, we in ICAO approved the global air navigation plan. Under that global air navigation plan, there’s the Aviation System Block Upgrade (ASBU); so at every interval of that upgrade, there are some critical things that States will have to implement like Performance-Based Navigation, Air Traffic Flow Management, Continuous Climb Operations, and Continuous Descent Operations. This requires States to modernize their systems, including transition of Aeronautical Information Services to Aeronautical Information Management, for example, ADS-B implementation, etc.
States have to work together to ensure that the commitment they are making in terms of financing is not wasted, and those things will be in line with their expectations under the Global Air Navigation Plan, so that they can install modern equipment. We also felt that it was necessary for us to be the bridge builder, bringing States and the financing sector together. You will recall the African Development Bank played a critical role. In fact, after that meeting, they have now established an aviation desk.
The second aspect of that was that we noticed that in Africa, the Programme For Infrastructure Development In Africa (PIDA) had no aviation component. It was all based on other areas. We felt aviation needs to play a critical role, so we brought the African Union into it and we brought NEPAD into it.
Now, in the second phase of PIDA, our expectation is that aviation will have a prominent position such that States can then develop, not only their national projects, but regional projects as well under PIDA. That is on-going, and I am happy at the way that is coming out; the African Union is mobilized, the African Development Bank is mobilized, and the regional offices of ICAO are working closely with African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) on this.
There is no other way moving forward than to modernize and to expand infrastructure in anticipation, of course, that SAATM and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement will create the basis for increased traffic of movement of goods and services.
It’s always been that the trade in Africa is in north-south direction and going to other continents; but intra-African trade itself has to be enhanced.
Other activities that the African Union has been promoting, and we support these, are for example, removing of restrictions of trade barriers, simplifying Customs procedures, intra-African tourism, which will help to generate the critical mass of trade between African States. And if that happens, the airports and the air navigation services providers will be ready with the infrastructure necessary for the increased traffic.
For this also to be sustained over a period, there is need for stable and effective regulatory regimes in terms of aviation safety oversight and aviation security oversight. We have worked on this also, we have some cardinal programmes we developed for Africa States – the AFI Plan to enhance safety; the AFI SECFAL (Security and Facilitation) to enhance aviation security and facilitation in terms of simplified border security management, making sure that the passports of African States meet international standard.
Of course, you also need other stable regulations in terms of investment, making it possible for investors to invest under an enabling economic and business regime; but that also requires political stability, because if you want investors to come in they want to be sure that their investments are protected. There are a lot of things working together in this regard.
We at ICAO, over the past 6 years, and even before then, have tried to work with African States in many of those areas progressively. Now I think we have a body of initiatives that if sustained can help transform the aviation sector.
Q: What is your assessment of the No Country Left Behind (NCLB) initiative, and, what is your expectation from your successor?
A: When I introduced the No Country Left Behind initiative when I became President, it was born out of the realization that ICAO can not only set the standards and audit States and tell them they are not doing well. It is important that ICAO supports the States in meeting those requirements.
And there was a philosophical debate on whether it is the role of ICAO to be extending itself into this realm of technical assistance in the way and manner which I promoted it. There were some people who felt it is the obligation of States to meet the standards, and they should be left to meet them.
But let me say that I feel very pleased and blessed that the initiative has surpassed all expectations. I have been pleasantly surprised; but it has also proven that States have the political will to do the right thing. What was missing is for them to understand why it is in their interest to meet ICAO standards and recommended practices.
There is no way to increase your participation in international civil aviation without meeting those standards. And I have seen some very important successes recorded in Africa. For many years now with the exception of the last year – because of some fatalities arising from, for example, the 737MAX situation – Africa for a number of years recorded zero fatalities in commercial air transport.
If you remember before the advent of No Country Left Behind, the African aviation statistics was terrible. But the States responded, they enhanced their regulatory system, and improved their systems effectively. There are examples of States that were 10% in the effective implementation of ICAO standards that moved to over 60% in two years. Some moved from 20% to 70%. In security, a State moved from 1.7% to 68% in three years. Many of these States I have recognised the improvement they achieved through the issuance of ICAO Council President’s Certificate.
Some countries have got the Council President’s Certificate for Safety and Security at the same time. Nigeria got for Security, for example, during the last Assembly because I think their result was at 96% effective implementation. These are very clear manifestations of improvement in the continent.
We also made a lot of effort to work with African States in the area of training. Until recently, there were no Regional Training Centers of Excellence in Africa; and now we have a couple of them, including the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology and the African School of Meteorology and Civil Aviation (EAMAC) of ASECNA in Niger. We also have in Ethiopia and in Kenya.
These are the results of the No Country Left Behind initiative by working with the States. And now everybody is in agreement that with a little bit of help and support and showing the way, all the States have the political will to change their systems, and that has been proven.
Now going forward, I think the train is moving at a rapid speed. I am not under the illusion that any President of the Council can come up with his own initiative. The way the 193 Member States of ICAO have been energized all over the world on this – because the improvements we are seeing are not only in Africa, but also in Asia, in Latin America, and everywhere – I think the States now feel closer to ICAO. They can see the direct benefit that they receive from ICAO.
It is not only just that they have to implement standards, but they will get direct assistance. I am sure that my successor will feel positive to continue with No Country Left Behind, and probably even enhance it. In any case, during the last ICAO Assembly, the States were very clear in adopting a resolution with a resounding support for No Country Left Behind.
Q: We can see that there is so much you have in store to share to move the continent to a new level, could you give us a peep into your immediate future plans?
A: Well, at this stage once I sign off on the 31st of December this year 2019, of course I’ll have to come back to Nigeria and also sign off from the Nigerian government because I have been incredibly blessed with the support from the Nigerian government; I have really been on secondment for the past 15 years. And then we’ll see what next.
Certainly having worked for the 193 Member States of ICAO for the past six years, Africa is my home, Nigeria is my home, and whatever I can do to help the civil aviation sector in Africa, it will be my pleasure to do that. In what form all that will take place you will have to stay tuned to see how it will evolve.
I have a lot for developing States who need help here and there. So we’ll see what structure it will take. Certainly one thing that I think Africa and developing countries need is not all about resources; it is about channeling the resources, giving them a focus and in the right direction.
So, even if you get all the aids, financing and loans you need, if you do not apply them rightly, you’ll end up with projects that do not deliver the required outcome and the resources will be wasted.
The second thing is about the human capital. I think that there are professionals in Africa and in developing countries who know what to do. But they need a little bit of support from the political system. They need a little bit of confidence in their ability to compete. There is need to find a way to develop the next-generation of aviation professionals to have that level of, not only competence, but also confidence in their ability to hold up their own at the international level.
There is no special knowledge in other places beyond what is available here. The difference is the enabling environment and a system that can give you the level of confidence to perform at the highest point of your capability.
This is why one of the things I have promoted with the Nigerian government over the past three years is the need for them to establish an aviation university. I’m informed that the government has approved that. I think it will give tremendous benefit not only to the Nigeria aviation sector but also to the Africa aviation sector, because as at today, there is no specialized academic institution for aviation studies.
Every country can have it if you want to develop properly. So I think that is another platform by which we can develop the next-generation of aviation professionals beyond what is happening now, because all the colleges of technology we have, like NCAT, are developing the proficiency in the sector but the facilities for academic studies, research and development are not there, and this also has to get the focus among African States.