Africa’s aviation safety and security recently came under the searchlight of the global aviation regulatory body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The continent, despite doing so much, still has a lot of gaps to close, just as the liberalisation of air transport in Africa, otherwise known as Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM), came under focus at the summit, writes WOLE SHADARE
Africa’s aviation industry took the centrestage in Abuja, last week, as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Directors- General of Civil Aviation in Africa, the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the representative of the Singaporean Government, among other groups of aviation intelligentsia, gathered to discuss the myriad of problems confronting aviation safety, security and the liberalisation of air transport in the continent.
ICAO Secretary-General, Juan Carlos Salazar, while addressing Africa’s aviation leaders last week in his opening of the 2022 AFI Aviation Week, highlighted the tremendous potential future for aviation in Africa that could be achieved through the realisation of regional commitments and underscored the critical role aviation should play in states’ pandemic recovery planning.
Over recent years, overall safety confidence and performance in the AFI region have improved in tandem with a dramatic decrease in the number of Significant Safety Concerns (SSCs), from seven in 2015 to just one in 2021.
Assistance provided to states by ICAO Regional Office Safety Teams (ROST) through the AFI Plan, coupled with partner support provided to various states, played a big part in achieving this result, with many AFI Plan support activities provided even since the advent of the pandemic.
Discussions included important issues like the progress made in implementing the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) global and regional plan, enhancement of aviation performance in all ICAO strategic objectives, key priorities for the coming years, COVID- 19 aviation recovery and building back better and the outcome of the ICAO High-Level Conference on COVID-9 (HLCC) 2021 amongst others.
Air transport growth
The secretary-general highlighted that air transport growth rates in Africa were among the fastest in the world prior to COVID-19, noting, however, that “we must also recognise together that recent results could have been much more robust if not for persisting regulatory barriers, financial constraints, and the slow pace of air transport liberalisation here.”
ICAO is assisting African states more effectively in addressing ICAO’s policies and guidance on the economic regulation of international air transport, in collaboration with a variety of regional multilateral organisations.
In order for ICAO economic policies and guidance to be suitably customised to the African context, there was a call for due diligence to ensure due to alignment among the Lomé Declaration on air cargo development in Africa, the Antananarivo Declaration on sustainable air transport development in Africa and the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) as outlined in the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD.).
The implementation of the two declarations is currently being monitored by ICAO through State Air Transport Action Plans (SATAPs) and via activities conducted in accordance with Recommendation 10 of the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART).
Significance of the summit
The Director-General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu, said the AFI Aviation Week was the biggest regional conference that ICAO has for the African region and the Indian Ocean, stressing that it comprises a lot of regional plans for Africa.
“You have the AFI plan, which is about safety, efficiency, infrastructure development in the airports and air navigation services, and then you have the AFI and another that deals with issues of security and facilitation and also the human resources capacity development and environment have become a big part of it. This is very significant for the African region.
“This programme, over the years, has led to tremendous improvement that bothers on safety and security facilitations in many African countries. Although, there is still a long way to go it is very important for a lot of countries and it is important for the implementation of Africa Union Agenda 2023,” he said.
AU SAATM agenda
One of the key components of the AU Agenda is SAATM, which is a flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063, an initiative of the African Union to create a single unified air transport market in Africa to advance the liberalisation of civil aviation in Africa and act as an impetus to the continent’s economic integration agenda.
SAATM will ensure aviation plays a major role in connecting Africa, promoting its social, economic, and political integration, and boosting intra-Africa trade and tourism as a result. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) fully supports this initiative, which will open up Africa’s skies and promote the value of aviation throughout the continent.
Openair arrangements boost traffic, drive economies and create jobs. The NCAA DG further stated that “if you are going to develop railways across the continent, it is a huge investment and it is going to take time with the security challenges you have in parts of Africa; land transportation will take a longer time.”
“So, the SAATM is very important. How is AFI Week, AFI plan critical to implementation? Even though those who have signed the AFI MOU, there are certain eligibility requirements that you need to do and that is within ICAO audit safety and ICAO audit and security. You must get a baseline minimum of 60 percent of the two to be able to participate in SAATM,” he added.
Help within for Africa
Not a few believe that Africa first needs to help itself, hence the need for the collaboration and coordination in Africa to really help each other to reduce gaps and deficiencies in the system. Speakers noted that aviation was recovering after a few years of COVID-19, just as the CAAs’ were charged to begin to retrain and ensure that most safety issues are taken care of.
Although there is still a long way to go, the continent has shown tremendous resilience in pursuing safety and security as part of its agenda to ensure safer skies.