Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria played host to the Africa-Indian Ocean (AFI) Region of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for her AFI Aviation Week. The event which was 7th in its series was held from 16th-20th May, 2022.
Before Nigeria, such countries like Chad, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Botswana, Niger, and Uganda had at different times hosted the global event.
The 7th AFI Aviation Week and the 9th Directors General Civil Aviation Authorities (DGCAA) hosted by Nigeria was organized by the Federal Ministry of Aviation (FMA) in conjunction with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The 5-day event was broken into sessions for easy and seamless deliberations with grand opening and the 9th DGCA meeting held on the first day of the programme.
Day 2 featured 25th AFI Plan and 11th AFI Aviation Security and Facilitation in Africa (SECFAL) Plan Steering Committees Meetings, followed by Industry and other Partners status on Day 3.
Day 4 of the event showcased AFI Aviation Symposium and the last day was the “Way Forward & Closing Session” which dealt with recommendations and conclusion.
No fewer than 200 participants from 48 countries and 18 international and regional bodies, comprising the DGCAA, Aviation Safety and Security Representatives, Aviation Experts from African-Indian Ocean Region Member States and Representatives of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Nigerian Metrological Agency (NIMET) and other experts from International/ Regional Organizations gathered for the special five-day series of meetings for AFI Aviation Week. Also in attendance was Nigeria's Representative on the ICAO Council, Engr. Mahmoud Sani Ben Tukur.
The event afforded all participants veritable platform to robustly dissect important issues like progress made in implementing the International Civil Aviation Organisation 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 – 19 (HLCC) 2021 amongst others.
It is germane to mention that the opening and closing sessions were opened to the public after which the delegates broke into technical sessions. The grand opening and 9th Director General of Civil Aviation meeting featured NCAA DG, Capt. Musa Nuhu; Secretary General, Africa Civil Aviation Commission [AFCAC], Ms. Angeline Simana; Commissioner Infrastructure – African Union Commission (AUC), H.E. Amani Abou-Zeid; Senior Minister of State for Transport of Singapore, Dr. Amy Khor; Secretary General, ICAO, Mr. Juan Carlos Salazar; Honourable Minister of Aviation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Hadi Sirika.
The event also covered several important meetings including the Ninth (9) Meeting of the AFI Directors-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA/9); the Twenty-Fifth (25) Meeting of the Steering Committee of the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa (AFI Plan); the Eleventh (11) Meeting of the Steering Committee of the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Security and Facilitation in Africa (AFI SECFAL Plan); and Aviation Symposium.
The highlight of this auspicious event included signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Co-operative agreements between notable countries. A case in point was the signing between Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Rwanda. The whole essence of the MOUs for technical support was to enhance safety and collaboration among aviation states in Africa for potential expansion.
In his opening speech, Honorable Minister of Aviation (HMA), Sen. Hadi Abubakar Sirika mentioned that Nigeria's determination to host this meeting is borne out of the frantic desire to support the growth and development of air transport in the region. This is in addition to offering ICAO's efforts in facilitating the recovery process of the industry from the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
He particularly commended ICAO and its regional offices in Dakar and Nairobi, together with the coordinators of the AFI Plan, AFI SECFAL and the RASFALG-AFI for sustaining these initiatives over the years. Without iota of doubt, he affirmed that These laudable programmes, he acknowledged, have not only contributed in no small measure to the development of facilitation, safety and security in the region but also assisted the region in complying with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and the drastic reduction in the number of States with significant Safety Concerns (SSCs).
According to the minister, the meeting is imperative to review the impact of these programmes in relation to the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and to develop new ways of implementing and achieving their objectives. This, he opined, can be achieved by taking particular cognizance of digitalization and innovation which are now being highly adopted by the industry.
In his informed view, it is the one and only way to continue to make these initiatives relevant and sustainable while contributing to the strengthening of safety, security and facilitation in the region. This is without losing sight of the fact that a safe, secure and efficient air transport system is a natural impetus for socio-economic development as well as a viable means of supporting trade and tourism of the region. Beyond these, they will also complement the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and other admirable initiatives of Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU).
The HMA lauded ICAO's leadership for the unending collaboration and coordination with Member States and other stakeholders which has encouraged Member States to collaborate and pool resources in resolving challenges particularly with regard to enhancing safety in the Sub-region. According to Sen. Sirika, one of the milestone upshots of such collaboration is the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa. This was to later birth the Banjul Accord Group Aviation Safety Oversight Organization (BAGASOO) which Nigeria is a foremost financier. The continued support render by BAGASOO to Member States vis-a-vis improving their safety oversight capabilities and human resource development cannot be overemphasized.
However, he advocated for the resuscitation the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF) which he said was necessary for the growth of the sector in African and other developing nations and which has been inactive since 2018. As a background, the HRDF was contributed voluntarily by member states to provide needed assistance to African States in order to better meet their human resource requirements for operational efficiency and continuous implementation of ICAO's Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and such other programme activities.
According to Sirika, Nigeria generously contributed to this fund and equally benefited from the inaugural secondment of technical personnel for the industry to ICAO under this programme. The exposure, experience and knowledge gained by the officers in the past years attest to the usefulness of the HRDF programme.
On that note, Sen. Sirika made appeal to participating Member States, the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and most importantly, the ICAO Secretary General, Mr. Juan Carlos Salazar to use his good offices to revive the ICAO HRDF to enable safe and reliable air transport for African States, thereby contributing to the social and economic development in the African region.
Similarly, he advanced the need to address the issue of financing and modernization of dilapidating aviation infrastructure in line with the historic Declaration and Framework for Plan of Action for Aviation Infrastructure Development in Africa adopted at the ICAO World Aviation Forum (IWAF) in Abuja in 2017. Sen. Sirika stressed that it is important to evoke that momentous declaration in accordance with ICAO Assembly Resolution A40-9, Appendix C Section II Article 7. While advocating for the Implementation of that declaration under the AFI Plan, he expressed optimism the discourse is on the agenda for this event.
That notwithstanding, the HMA assured ICAO of Nigeria's support for ICAO initiatives and willingness to collaborate with member states and other development partners in the development of air transport in Africa.
One of the highlights of the event was the signing of the MoU between Singapore and AFCAC to support training programs for aviation in Africa. Therefore, on behalf of the Government of Nigeria and other African member States, the minister used the rare opportunity to express deep gratitude and appreciation to the Government of Singapore for their partnership with AFCAC. This is in addition to her commitment to ensuring development of international civil aviation, particularly in Africa.
In closing, Sen. Hadi Sirika expressed deep gratitude to the President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR), the good people of the country and the number of eminent personalities that are participating at this important event. Of particular importance was high level representation by Secretary General of ICAO, Mr. Juan Carlos Salazar which clearly demonstrates the importance of the event.
Sen. Sirika also thanked profusely ICAO WACAF and ESAF Regional Directors and the ICAO team for organizing this event. Most importantly, he praised, Director General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Captain Musa Nuhu and his team for their efforts to make this event a huge success.
Delivering the welcome address, the Director General of the country's apex regulatory (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu enumerated enormity and potentiality of air transportation in accelerating socio-economic growth and development of any States. Working example was the recent unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has further demonstrated the importance of air transport to the global economy.
In total agreement with the view expressed by the Minister, the NCAA helmsman stated that the experience of the last two (2) years has underscored the fact that overcoming challenges and achieving meaningful growth in the industry, can only be done through cooperation, collaboration and co-ordination amongst stakeholders. He expressed hope that this event, which is a combination of many meetings, will further enhance the collective efforts within AFI region in the areas of aviation safety, security and facilitation.
According to the DG, having this in-person meeting would not have come at a better time than now that the industry is still struggling to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic. Hence, he expressed optimism that 7th AFI aviation week, which is a blend of many meetings would deliberate and come up with practical outcome that will complement on-going concerted efforts in "building back better'' and facilitating our industry recovery, even as there are high-pitched aspirations within AFI region to build a resilient industry especially in the areas of aviation safety, security and facilitation.
The DG's speech did not end without acknowledging the regional aviation regulatory body (ICAO) for providing sterling direction and leadership to States during the devastating period of the pandemic which took its debilitating toll on the lives and livelihoods of countries all over the world and the aviation industry.
In the viewpoint of the DG, a gathering like this should not be taken merely an opportunity to listen to ICAO's beautiful efforts and standards in the areas of aviation safety, security and facilitation. Thus, it is for stakeholders to identify our challenges which have been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic. This is with a view to proffering practical regional solutions and strategies towards addressing them collectively.
"This is the only way to come up with far reaching conclusions and recommendations that would enhance speedy recovery of the industry from the impact of COVID-19 and chart new and practical direction not just to enhance the development and growth of air transportation in the region, but to also boost trade and tourism," he stressed.
Concluding, Capt. Musa Nuhu thanked the HMA and the Permanent Secretary, Sen. Hadi Sirika and Mr. Abel Olumuyiwa Enitan respectively for their support in hosting this event. Also for specific mention was the organizing committee for all their efforts in making the event a huge success. In addition, he also thanked eminent dignitaries for their presence and full participation in various deliberations.
In continuation of the opening remarks, H. E. Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission (AUC), Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, commended ICAO for inviting AUC to the 7th Aviation Week where all African air transport stakeholders in the AFI region share experiences and agree on concrete measures geared towards building a robust regulatory environment. This is with a view to supporting of a sustainable recovery of the African air transport sector.
On behalf of the AUC, the Commissioner thanked ICAO and other stakeholders for all the support and partnerships dating back to 2020, more particularly at the critical phase when the African air transport sector confronted unprecedented challenges occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic. One of such support given to African Member States is in the implementation of continental and global recovery strategies for the air transport sector.
Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused shocking impacts on the lives and livelihoods of countries all over the world. Its ruins on the aviation industry have culminated in profound losses on jobs, access to finance, reductions in industry revenue and ultimate contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
There is a silver lining after all to end the worst of the damage wrecked by the pandemic with the spate of progress in the administration of vaccines. However, he admitted that the target of 60% vaccination rate in Africa by end of 2022 set by the Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC) is faced with myriads of hurdles. Hence, waiting for a full vaccine roll out is not a sustainable option in the face of ever-growing socio-economic severities of the pandemic on African countries and the industry.
In view of the foregoing, this aviation week should provide an opportunity to exchange ideas on key challenges affecting the restart and recovery of the air transport industry. Quoting recent statistic from International Air Transport Association (IATA), several governments around the world have, over the past years, provided over $400billion to airlines to support their survival and restart efforts, considering the role of aviation to economies. On the contrary, the total estimated amount of the financial relief measures provided to airlines in Africa was only USD 2,721,539,647 (almost USD 2.7 Billion) by end of 2021.
The financial relief measures provided by the government are in the form of advancing loans, guarantees, wage subsidies, and direct cash injections to airlines. This figure is put at USD 2,638,765,827 (almost USD 2.6 Billion). In that regard, the AUC unrelentingly urge African States and other key Development Finance Institutions to further support African airlines in varied forms, including deferral of charges and taxes whenever possible, granting sovereign guarantees for private airlines, wage subsidies and sundry payment support.
The Commissioner enumerated various intervention programmes such as 2021 AU Ministers of Transport and Health “Saving lives, Saving economies and livelihoods “campaign; an AU Taskforce comprising African Union Commission (AUC), Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), African Airlines Association (AFRAA), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and World Health Organization (WHO) urging African countries to work towards harmonizing pre-entry and exit requirements so as to increase mutual recognition, encourage cross-border information exchange and cross-collaboration among different sectors and stakeholders.
She asserted that the PCR tests which is the standard tests required by African States totaling $30-$150 per test across countries in Africa places African aviation at a significant disadvantage. According to him, an increase of 10% of travel cost can result in reduction in demand at continental level by 15%. As a corollary, the AU, through Africa CDC, is recommending Member States to encourage the use rapid diagnostic antigen test (RDT) for fully vaccinated passengers to support a sustainable re-opening of air transport services.
With regard to the AU Taskforce on safe reopening of borders, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid informed that the body is working assiduously on harmonizing the existing digital platforms for traveler health credentials and border requirements. This, however, is with the proviso that the adopted platforms are interoperable and are recognized by other regions to tackle the issue of restrictions to travel within or out of Africa. On this note, AUC is pleading with Governments not only to continue to provide timely and accurate updates on their health protocols or requirements but to also continue to provide digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates.
For the purpose of clarity in some quarters, the operationalization of the SAATM is still among key priorities to ensure sustainable restart and recovery of the industry. This is in addition to improve air transport connectivity in support of the AfCFTA. To this end, AUC has concluded a continental study on the humongous benefits of SAATM which is now serving as advocacy tool to encourage remaining States to join SAATM.
The revised Windhoek targets on aviation security and facilitation and the recommendations of air transport cost in Africa through the reduction of taxes and charges have been adopted by the Ministers in charge of air transport last year and thereafter endorsed by the AU Summit held in February 2022. Hopefully, efforts being made in areas of safety, security and facilitation will continue to focus on improving passenger travel experience as well as contribute to rebuilding confidence to travel within and outside Africa in cost-effective way for the sustainable recovery of the African air transport industry.
To achieve this, the collaboration among transport and health sectors will be critical to harmonize procedures at airports and to rebuild passenger confidence in the post COVID-19 recovery.
AUC current key priorities against next year include the establishing a strong regulatory framework to fully implement SAATM and remove all the bottlenecks that are still preventing the continent to enjoy the full benefits of a safe, secure and sustainable air transport. Development of a seamless airspace and air navigation services architecture to support SAATM is yet another priority for AUC. Important enabler of the Continental free trade area and the socio-economic transformation of Africa that we all want to see in the next few years are the full liberalization of air transport services in Africa and operationalization of SAATM, particularly the improvement of connectivity and enhancement of safety and security.
Rounding off her opening remarks, H. E. Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission (AUC), Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid invited all AUC Member States to nominate senior officials to actively participate at the Laboratory workshop organized by AFRAA taking place in June, 2022; the object of which is to engage in a frank discussion on the factors militating against full operationalization of SAATM and sustainable development of air transport.
While acknowledging existing collaboration between the AUC, the ICAO, the CAAs and all our key stakeholders, she praised all the on-going efforts to support a safe and sustainable recovery of the African air transport industry.
On the sidelines of the meeting, the Honourable Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika led high-level delegation comprising officials of ICAO led by its Secretary-General, Mr. Juan Carlos Salazar, NCAA DG, Capt. Musa Nuhu, Nigeria's representative on the ICAO Council, Engr. Mahmoud Ben Tukur and other dignitaries to the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
While receiving in audience the team, President Muhammadu Buhari promised that Nigeria will support the ideals and aspirations of ICAO and achievement of its strategic objectives, in collaboration with other member states of the organization. Additionally, more investments which will improve Nigeria's infrastructure and facilities towards safe, secure, environmentally friendly and sustainable civil aviation will be made.
Enumerating various contributions of Nigeria according to a statement by Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, President Buhari stated that Nigeria became a member of ICAO Council in 1962, and since then, she has continued to make valuable contributions to the Council's work and its activities, playing a key role in supporting the implementation of ICAO Policies and Programmes internationally, and particularly in the African region.
A catalogue of such landmark supports and contributions include ratification of international air law instruments like the Montreal Protocol and amendments to some articles of the Chicago Convention; championing the cause of Aviation safety, security and facilitation in Africa; and approval for the establishment of Aerospace University in Abuja to cater for research and development as well as provide manpower for the industry.
Others are the establishment of independent agencies (including NCAA for safety and economic oversight of the industry) to enhance aviation safety, security, effective and efficient provision and management of infrastructure in all aspects of the industry; implementation of the Global Aviation Safety Plan, the Global Air Navigation Plan, as well as the Global Aviation Security Plan; seconded auditors to support various ICAO programmes in the areas of safety and security; contribution of experts on various ICAO technical panels, commissions and working groups over the years; adoption of a civil aviation policy revolving around liberalization and Public-Private-Partnerships Initiative.
In addition were making robust donation to the ICAO voluntary Air Transport Fund in order to be part of the Global efforts for recovery from COVID-19 crisis; the Safety and Human Resource Development Funds; and hosting several ICAO meetings and regional workshops, including the widely acclaimed successful third ICAO World Aviation Forum, as well as several other workshops on safety oversight.
According to President Buhari, these have culminated in huge investments in the nation's airports infrastructure and services, increased capacity utilization and phenomenal increase in the number of domestic operators. Indeed, the domestic and international traffic has experienced a tremendous growth since our assumption of office in 2015.
However, Nigeria's number citizen expressed hope of continued support of ICAO under its 'No Country Left Behind' initiative.
Earlier, the ICAO Scribe lauded the leadership role Nigeria plays in civil aviation in Africa. He affirmed that Nigeria's record is one of the most impressive in the world with increased numbers of airports; and passengers are growing in spite of COVID-19.
Quoting him, "the record of safety is the most important performance indicator of all. I recognize the excellent work by your government to maintain high standards, in line with international best practices.”
The Secretary General stressed importance of maintaining the track record as that there was no end line in civil aviation. According to the ICAO scribe “we keep chasing targets that go on and on.”
Therefore, he urged President Buhari to sustain the support being given to the sector to attract further investment, tourism and uninterrupted growth.