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July 2004

Aviation conference emphasises air safety

The 10th aviation and allied business leadership conference of the International Civil Aviation Organisation [ICAO] opened on 29 June in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, with a call for improved air security and the industry's economic recovery in Africa.
Deremo Maiko

"Safety is a vital ingredient of air transport. We must invest adequately in air navigation equipment, aircraft maintenance and human resource development to reduce accidents," said Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki in a speech read on his behalf by Vice-President Moody Awori.

Kibaki said that since the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US, security concern has preoccupied the industry with countries trying to devise measures to counter terrorism. He told African aviation executives to formulate clear strategies that will help the continent claim its position in the global aviation industry this century, noting that in 2002 Africa contributed only 29 million passengers out of a global total of 3 billion passengers.

He said the trend was similar in cargo business where Africa’s total was les than 2 million tonnes out of a global total of 108 million tonnes. He blamed the poor performance on a highly underdeveloped, costly and inefficient air transport system.

Kibaki called on the various economic blocs such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Civil Aviation Commission and the African Airline Association to be morepro-active and make deliberate and concerted efforts to stimulate and guide the development of the aviation industry.

The two-day conference – whose theme was "Air Transport in Africa: Transform to Win" brought together respective ministers dealing with the transport sectors in the African continent and Chief Executives of various airlines operating in Africa. They included Nigeria’s Aviation minister Mallam Issa Yuguda and South Africa’s Transport minister Jeffrey Radebe.

Echoing Kibaki’s sentiments, Radebe said: “We must integrate aviation security issues in particular much more closely than we have with the co-operative arrangements within and between national administrations”. On his part, Yuguda noted that 11 African countries are part of the 60 scheduled for the 2004 ICAO Universal Security Audit Programme [USAP].

ICAO, a UN agency based in Montreal, Canada designs global benchmarks for aviation safety and security both on the ground and in the air, and checks airports against those standards. In the week prior to the conference, agency officials had completed the latest security audit of Kenya’s airports as part of a rolling series of visits across the continent, said Mohamed El Amir, Director of ICAO’s Air Transport Bureau. “We have had a lot of problems before in terms of the safety of Africa’s airspace and in the past ten years but the states are addressing them”, he added.

El Amir also said the African aviation industry on the continent must liberalise to survive. “There is no doubt liberalisation is here to stay. It is irreversible and is spreading quickly around the world, including Africa”.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, ICAO Secretary-General Taieb Cherif called on the airlines to have clear understanding of the conditions that can best ensure sustained growth of African aviation. "An air transport system that is not safe cannot survive and prosper. Safety and security makes good business sense," he said.

Cherif called on African governments to recognize the critical public interest role that civil aviation plays in the overall economy and afford it an appropriate place in national or regional strategic planning.

In order to benefit from global trends, African airlines were urged to form alliances. South African Airways Communications and Government liaison Vice-President Onkgopotse Tabane observed that the move would help airlines reduce their operating costs. He noted that very few airlines are developing new routes single-handedly after the industry was badly strained by the events of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Tabane cited other benefits of forming alliances as joint purchasing, common product specifications and reciprocal maintenance. “Going it alone and pursuing new ventures and new routes is both dangerous and unprofitable”, he said noting that the global trend is now moving towards a Global Branded Alliance.

“Going into untested waters is always better with a partner airline to share the risk”. He noted that Africa’s aviation industry is going through very lean times characterized by national carriers that are not necessarily profitable, collapsing airlines that are not exactly cutting world standards, poor productivity that is still a mirror of colonial masters and huge problems of safety issues that are often left unsaid.

“Air traffic control is but one issue that makes our aviation uncompetitive and inefficient”, he added and proposed the creation of an effective commission of aviation within the African Union to oversee the running of the industry.

Speaking at the conference, ICAO Regional Director Lot Molel said Kenya’s navigational aids needed to be improved. And Kenya’s Transport minister John Michuki noted that stringent visa requirements had adversely affected the development of Africa’s aviation industry. He urged the governments to eliminate delays as it sometimes took months to obtain a visa. “We must re-assess visa requirements especially among African sister states. Our policies must address this and related issues adequately, satisfactorily and urgently”.

Michuki welcomed the introduction of Machine Readable travel documents technology for passports and visas in many African countries, saying it would facilitate travel.

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