ICAO meeting African challenges head on
In an exclusive interview, the International Civil Aviation Organization's president of the council, Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, explains to Keith Mwanalushi how ICAO is responding to air transport challenges throughout Africa.
Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu began his tenure as ICAO president in January 2014. His three-year term in office is scheduled to end in December this year, although he could be re-elected for a further term.
Prior to his presidency, he was the Nigerian representative on the ICAO council, so his passion for aviation in general, and African air transport in particular, is profound.
There are a number of programmes that address air traffic management and aviation. One such initiative is the ‘no country left behind (NCLB)’ campaign, which highlights ICAO’s efforts to assist countries in implementing appropriate standards and recommended practices (SARPs).
The main goal is to help ensure that SARP implementation is better harmonised globally so that all countries have access to the significant socio-economic benefits of safe and reliable air transport.
The NCLB programme also promotes ICAO efforts to resolve significant safety concerns (SSCs) brought to light through its safety oversight audits, as well as other safety, security and emissions-related objectives – clearly important throughout Africa.
Aliu said the programme continued to register significant success in the provision of support for states towards the attainment of regional safety targets, the establishment and strengthening of regional safety oversight organisations (RSOOs), and the building of safety oversight capacity at both state and regional levels.
“I’d also point out that NCLB is much more than a specific programme in ICAO. Rather it is a cultural transformation and re-prioritisation, with the basic goal of assisting states to achieve effective implementation of ICAO SARPs and policies,” he said.
Aliu continued to explain that NCLB was affecting everything across all five of the ICAO council’s strategic objectives for global civil aviation – safety, capacity and efficiency, security and facilitation, economic development, and environmental protection.
“For decades, ICAO has served global aviation very well by forging a consensus among world governments on the norms reflected in the annexes to the Chicago Convention,” said Aliu. “Today there are more than 12,000 such provisions, which have been fundamental over the years in permitting us to harmonise and enable aviation’s remarkable global network.”
No country left behind recognises that SARP development is no longer enough with respect to ICAO’s role. “Our SARPs are only as effective as the commitments and resources that states can establish in support of them,” said Aliu. “It, therefore, refocuses ICAO on the assistance and capacity-building for certain states to aid them in the full and effective implementation of our SARPs.”
Aliu said this, in turn, realised safe and secure air transport services for states and, particularly, for the travelling public.
“This subsequently opens the door for states to global markets, enhanced tourism and trade, and more sustainable social and economic prosperity. This has always been the great promise of civil aviation and it is time that all states and regions had the tools and resources to realise these benefits,” he explained.
With respect to ICAO’s African/Indian Ocean (AFI) region, the implementation of the comprehensive regional implementation plan for aviation safety in Africa (AFI plan) is a major priority of the NCLB initiative.
Success under the AFI plan, according to Aliu, has been demonstrated by the recent resolution of some significant safety concerns in Africa, a trend which ICAO will, hopefully, ensure continues. “I would highlight here the substantial reduction of aircraft accidents and incidents in Africa over the last two years,” he said.
To date, 32 AFI states have adopted state-specific ICAO plans of action. The implementation of these schemes has contributed to significant improvements in aviation safety in the region. The organisation has also developed specific technical assistance projects either implemented, or set to be implemented, in a number of African countries with assistance from the ICAO safety fund (SAFE).
Airport and air navigation systems modernisation is seen as crucial for African aviation development, but many of the challenges the continent faces are tied to shortfalls in funding and coordination.
Aliu feels the next focus should be on a joint programme to enhance aviation infrastructure, including airports and air navigation systems and technologies, in order to meet the current and future growth needs of the continent.
“ICAO is ready to work with the African Union (AU) Commission and relevant agencies, such as the United Nations development programme, the African Development Bank, and the programme on infrastructure development in Africa, in order to elaborate on and implement a comprehensive aviation infrastructure programme,” he said.
The world aviation forum, which ICAO hosted at the end of 2015, was specifically focused on fostering the operational and funding partnerships now needed to assure sustainable aviation development to meet the challenges of traffic growth now being projected.
“This was a very successful event and one we are repeating this September – the day before the launch of our 39th assembly – so that we can facilitate the greatest possible participation of the ministers and other senior officials who need to drive this process,” Aliu said.
Since the memorandum of cooperation between the African Union and ICAO was signed in 2010, a high level of priority has been assigned to the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision and the establishment of a single African air transport market. However, progress has been slow. “I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to African aviation, and to the respective economic prosperity of African nations, that these efforts be supported by each and every one of the countries,” said Aliu.
“I’d stress that existing resources could be used more efficiently. Firstly, prioritisation of projects, generally speaking, is an issue. The modernisation of airport and air navigation infrastructure systems must be properly planned, and to facilitate this, nations should develop robust implementation plans to guide funding priorities and facilitate financial and executive commitment,” he suggested.
ICAO’s global air navigation plan and the aviation system block upgrade (ASBU) have a role to play here. Aliu said ICAO could help countries identify the key communications, navigation, surveillance (CNS), and air traffic management and aerodrome infrastructure to be prioritised, and advise as to the most cost-effective options – for example, the use of satellite based equipment instead of terrestrials.
“These plans should be developed with a system-wide perspective in mind. In particular, it is important for states to enhance consultation to facilitate the harmonisation of air traffic management systems. This will enhance compatibility and interoperability and will, accordingly, generate efficiencies,” he added.
Recently, Aliu held high-level talks in Nigeria regarding aviation growth in that country. So what are the main aviation priorities in Nigeria today?
Firstly, he began by congratulating the Nigerian Government for its significant efforts to improve compliance with ICAO SARPs, as demonstrated by the results of its last safety and security oversight audits.
In addition to setting a safety and security example for the region, he said Nigeria had recognised that the effective implementation of ICAO SARPs was critical to the socio-economic development opportunities offered by the global aviation network.
ICAO forecasts presently indicate that passenger and cargo traffic in Africa will grow at 5.3% and 5.6% per year respectively by 2030. “Although Nigeria is the most populous country on the continent, it was only ranked 11th in terms of African passenger traffic in 2014. We, therefore, have a particular expectation of traffic growth for Nigeria,” he said.
This should be facilitated by the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the Yamoussoukro Decision and Aliu agreed that the country should continue to pursue the progressive liberalisation of its air transport sector and, as a member of African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), follow the regional liberalisation programme.
“It must also continue its administrative reform of aviation management. The functional autonomy of the civil aviation authority should be enhanced, in accordance with the Abuja safety targets, as should the autonomy of air navigation services and airports.”
Safety and security at airports is on the highest alert around the world in light of recent terrorist events and concerns over possible safety breaches at African airports have sprung up. “We are encouraging all African states to share resources and expertise to improve the aviation security and facilitation implementation, and I was particularly encouraged when African ministers adopted associated targets in Windhoek, Namibia, this past April,” he reported.
More specifically, ICAO is stressing the importance of conducting aviation security-related threat and risk assessments, proceeding with the implementation of suitable risk mitigation measures, and performing quality control inspections, audits and tests to ensure that such measures are implemented consistently and effectively. “We are also urging our member states to continue to enhance their travel document, border security and passenger identification programmes and processes.”
This September, during the 39th Assembly, ICAO expects its states to approve the development of their first-ever global aviation security plan, which will also become an important new tool in driving globally harmonised aviation security threat mitigation.
When the wireless telecommunications revolution took place, many commentators noted that some African states held the potential to benefit from a ‘leapfrog effect’ in terms of moving straight to wireless infrastructure, as opposed to evolving from wired to wireless services.
So, while the process in the telecommunications sector still faces some challenges in terms of the overall network capacity achieved and the speed of the expansion being seen, Aliu thinks there is a similar opportunity for many states on the African continent to commit to new investments in the latest airport and air navigation infrastructure.
As for his personal vision for Africa, he said it was consistent with the vision that ICAO has set out for the entire global air transport sector today – namely, that there must be no country left behind where the benefits of safe, secure and reliable air transport are concerned. “In this sense I hope to see Africa and its citizens enjoying equitable participation in international air transport,” he concluded.