On Saturday, December 7, 2013, the International Civil Aviation (ICAO) celebrated the annual Civil Aviation Day. Suleiman Idris, in this report, x-rays the significance of the event to the development of Africa, and indeed Nigeria’s civil aviation.
Nigeria and the whole of Africa are indeed at the threshold of experiencing progress in the continent’s aviation industry. The reasons are not far-fetched, Dr. Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu, a Nigerian was elected ICAO Council president on November 18, 2013 at the 38th Assembly of the organisation in Montreal, Canada, becoming the first African to head the global body for aviation safety, which he will preside over for the next three years. ICAO current consists of 191 member countries.
The election of the former Director in the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) who had been Nigeria’s representative on the platform for about a decade now no doubt sparked jubilations across Africa, a testament to Aliu’s professionalism competence and experience.
His Mexican predecessor, Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez who will relinquish his position by January 2014 aptly captured it thus “Having known and worked beside Dr. Aliu for much of this period, I am very pleased that the leadership of the council will now be in such capable hands. Dr. Aliu’s broad diplomatic perspective and demonstrated skills at consensus building will be essential to the success of ICAO’s continuing mission.”
In his acceptance speech, Aliu acknowledged that: “Aviation today, faces many challenges; but its role in expanding tourism and market access has never been more important to modern society and to the local, regional and global economic players, who rely so significantly today on safe and dependable air transport connectivity”.
When the United Nations (UN) special organ, saddled with regulating global aviation clocked 50 years on December 17, 1994, it established the International Civil Aviation Day through an Assembly and in 1996, on the initiative of ICAO and assistance from the Canadian Government, the UN’s General Assembly officially recognized December 7, as International Civil Aviation Day, which has since become an annual event to gauge the progress and prospects in the industry globally.
Also, Nigeria joined ICAO in 1960 and was elected into the Council of ICAO in 1962, as a Part II member State. The country has since remained on the Council and has continued to promote the interest of Nigeria and Africa on the Council as well as contribute to the development and growth of civil aviation in the region.
The Nigerian victory no doubt coincide with an era when the continent is grappling with several challenges and in the case of Nigeria, the sector is replete with incident of weak regulation, corruption and incident of fatal plane mishaps.
The theme of the 2013 ICAO day: “Evolving to Meet the Challenges of 21st Century Air Transport” seemed to have been prophetically chosen to coincide with the period a candidate of African descent will first take the reign of leadership at the 70 years organisation.
The challenges of Africa’s civil aviation are legendary, the continent is largely lagging behind on the global indices, and the next three years of Dr. Aliu’s stewardship should offer some lift and opportunities for the entire continent.
As the specialized agency of the United Nations created to promote international parameters and regulations essential for the security, efficiency and regularity of air transport and also serve as a medium for coordination in the sector of civil aviation, Africa must see this period as opportunity to negotiate perceived imbalances between the continent and the outside world and vigorously advocate for a new world order in global aviation with regards to technical support and development, technology transfer and collaborations, and “ progress based on a universal air transport structure that would be functioned soundly and economically, with equal opportunity to all”, which is the vision of ICAO.
At the 45th African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Annual General Assembly, which took place last November between 24th and the 26th, in Mombasa, Kenya, The Secretary General, Dr. Elijah Chingosho, painted a vivid picture of the state of civil aviation across the continent and underscored the fact that Africa aviation need to improve in the area of safety, with high regulatory costs, high fees and taxes on tickets, far lower load factors compared to the rest of the world, the lowest passenger numbers and air movements in comparison with all other continents and the challenges of by and large ageing fleets, still remain the its bane.
“The performance of the African aviation industry is lagging behind those of the rest of the world at less than 3% of global RPKs. The growth is heavily constrained by the high industry costs, inadequate infrastructure at several airports, slow implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision, lack of a single traffic rights negotiating body with respect to third parties like the EU” he told the 30 members body.
Also speaking on safety in Lagos in September this year, Tony Tyler, the International Air Transport Association IATA Director-General noted that there is ‘no priority is greater than safety’ and explained that “Africa’s performance is well below what we are achieving globally.
“In 2012 African airlines had one accident (with a Western-built jet aircraft) for every 270,000 flights. Globally, the industry average was one accident for about every five million flights. Put another way, African aviation accounts for about 3% of global traffic. And last year it accounted for nearly half of the fatalities on Western-built jets”.
However, the continent can cash on the 2013 ICAO day theme and from seminars, conferences and symposiums organised around the continent, ideas generated should be synergised to chart a new course for the black continent.
Dr. Chingosho also noted that “currently, infrastructure in many African states is deficient, dilapidated and not coping with the growing airline industry. Although there are a significant number of exceptions, there is need to develop and expand airports, runways and air navigation services facilities. Airports should be open 24 hours a day and not just during daylight hours.
“There is need for the relevant authorities to be pro-active and plan for the expected rapid expansion of African aviation”, he added, saying that these are the core areas where ICAO is relevant to the continent in terms of support both technical and human capacity development and there is no better time for the continent to ask for this than now.
His declaration that currently, non-African carriers transport about 80% of the intercontinental traffic to and from the continent is unacceptable; and again, according to him, “It is necessary to ensure that African aviation plays its part in ensuring the economic, social and political integration of African States.
In this regard, it is critical that the African Union puts in place policies that facilitates the development of African aviation such as ensuring full implementation of YD, negotiating BASAs as a block and not as individual countries, ensuring an even playing field and avoid favouring non-African carriers that are given more frequencies of services by some states that are denied their African counterparts, ensuring that costs of doing business in Africa are competitive and helping in ensuring the establishment of a major African hub in West and Central Africa”.
There is no better time for the continent to rise up to the challenges than now.