The ICAO has long recognised the importance of air connectivity to pan-African mobility, trade, and prosperity.
As a specialised agency of the United Nations, it regulates the principles and techniques of international air navigation, and fosters the planning and development of air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth.
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the ICAO council’s aviation recovery task force (CART) issued advice designed to assist all member states in aligning their actions and priorities to ensure their systems remained global, even as countries became disconnected by public health-related restrictions.
“Our secretariat quickly responded to the CART objectives by establishing coordination and monitoring tools for countries to make use of, and wide-ranging actions were taken to alleviate certain global standards temporarily to permit the humanitarian and medical supply flights, which still needed to operate,” Salazar recalled.
He said equal attention and importance was given to the implementation of the collaborative arrangement for the prevention and management of public health events in civil aviation (CAPSCA) programme, which had been a useful platform in the successes achieved and lessons learnt from past communicable disease outbreaks on the continent.
Prior to the pandemic, air transport growth was increasing robustly in Africa and, consequently, the recovery of aviation connectivity is now seen as essential.
Salazar stressed that this will be critical to the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the single African air transport market (SAATM), in addition to the freedom of movement goals set out in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 blueprint, which aims to transform the continent into the global powerhouse of the future.
Salazar is aware that countries and airlines are facing significant financial challenges due to operation and business disruptions caused by the Covid mitigation measures. “Financial stimulus for both aviation operators and regulators is critical at this time, not only here in Africa but all over the world,” he said. “We need to manage this recovery back to normal operations and traffic volumes without any negative impacts on system safety, security, and efficiency, and within a hugely challenging environment where industry, and the regulators who oversee it, face unparalleled economic and personnel hardships.”
Salazar explained that the current focus was on the effective implementation of ICAO safety, capacity, efficiency, and security objectives. In addition, oversight systems remained a priority, and there was a need to ensure that African countries were attaining the targets as established in ICAO’s global plans.
He said the ICAO was continuing its work in support of the comprehensive regional implementation plan for aviation safety in Africa (AFI plan), the African aviation security and facilitation (AFI SECFAL) plan projects, and activities established under the human resources development fund, which were helping to provide opportunities to the next generations of aviation professionals, managers, and leaders.
“It’s critical, in this respect, to ensure attainment of the related Abuja and Windhoek Declaration targets, which were endorsed by the assembly of the African Union heads of state and government,” he added.
The ICAO is also strongly supporting the strengthening of African regional safety oversight organisations (RSOOs), as well as regional accident and incident investigation organisations (RAIOs), which provide cost-effective collaboration mechanisms. “In this area we are currently actioning some key recommendations of a continent-wide ICAO study conducted in 2021,” he reported.
Interestingly, in January this year, ICAO launched a Chinese-funded capacity-building project to strengthen Tanzania’s aviation safety oversight system.
In addition to the provision of expert support for the improvement of technical activities in the fields of aerodromes, flight operations, air navigation services, and accident and incident investigation, the project will spur Tanzania’s civil aviation system to benefit from workshops and on-the-job training to build human resource capacities, as well as procurement of safety hardware and software tools.
Liberalising the air transport market in Africa has been perceived as a priority for decades and, yet, the process of implementing and operationalising the initiatives such as the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) and SAATM seems painfully slow. “This is especially the case for the many landlocked developing countries and small island developing nations in Africa, for which aviation connectivity serves as nothing short of an essential economic lifeline,” said Salazar.
The ICAO has been deeply supportive of the SAATM process and of increased air transport liberalisation more generally, whether through its council’s long-term vision, the Antananarivo Declaration on the sustainable development of air transport in Africa, which ICAO helped to forge many years ago, or several other developments and commitments it has encouraged at regional events and ICAO assemblies.
“While the limited exchange of air traffic rights poses persisting challenges to connectivity here, the ability of aircraft to move more freely means little when passengers are obstructed by restrictive visa regimes, or when freight movements are being stymied by tariffs and trade barriers,” Salazar stressed.
He also highlighted the issue of proliferating taxes and levies on aviation operations in many countries, despite the clear evidence that such approaches bring about a negative long-term impact for both operators and governments.
“This underscores why stable economic policies and air regulatory regimes need to be enabled by African states, and why increased air connectivity and liberalisation in Africa must be supported by a strategic vision of aligned national and regional policies, which fully encompass synergistic domains and policies for tourism, customs, immigration, economic planning, and trade and investment,” he said.
Looking ahead to a post-Covid era, a key vision for Salazar and ICAO is to make the entire sector more resilient to future pandemic threats.
“Innovation, whether in terms of standards, technologies, procedures, or management approaches, will be an essential component of the solutions we determine in all of these areas,” he said.
Prior to the pandemic, Africa accounted for only about 4% of global air transport services. “This was not equitable by any means from a global standpoint, considering the size and population of the continent, and post-pandemic we need to work better together to assure access to the benefits of air connectivity for all Africans,” concluded Salazar.
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