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Opportunity for common emissions targets and one stop security as aviation rebuilds from crisis

For decades the airline industry has fought a losing battle to convince air service regulators across the Asia-Pacific to harmonize their rules. Will the impact of the global pandemic result in meaningful co-operation between the region’s civil aviation bodies? Associate editor and chief correspondent, Tom Ballantyne, reports.

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August 1st 2022

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When national aviation regulators gathered for the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 57th Conference of Directors General of Civil Aviation for Asia and Pacific Regions in Seoul in July, two primary issues were up for discussion: persuading governments to smooth the path to post-pandemic recovery by improving cooperation and driving forward the industry’s emissions reduction strategy. Read More »

Addressing the high level meeting, Strengthening Regional Cooperation for the Restoration of Air Network with No Country Left Behind, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Council president, Salvatore Sciacchitano, and secretary general, Juan Carlos Salazar, underscored the importance of the themes while noting the Asia-Pacific has shown exemplary commitment to cooperation throughout the pandemic.

They also chose to use the conference’s platform to encourage attending States delegates to continue in this spirit of cooperation with and through ICAO, particularly as the global flight network responds to pent-up demand for air transport.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) representatives endorsed the ICAO goals outlined at the Seoul conference. “The need for cooperation was a strong recurring theme. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted that industry/government cooperation has to extend beyond the usual transport ministries and civil aviation departments and include other government agencies, such as departments of health and intra-agency/ministry collaboration within a government,” IATA’s regional vice president, Asia Pacific, Philip Goh, said.

Airports Council International Asia-Pacific (ACI Asia-Pacific) director general, Stefano Baronci, said: “The way to recovery in the Asia-Pacific is still long and challenging, but States have unequivocally committed to strengthening regional cooperation in reviving air travel, enhancing manpower, improving operations to ensure a smooth traveller experience, aviation safety and sustainability.”

Participants and analysts at the Incheon gathering, the first in-person Director Generals event since the outbreak of the pandemic, agreed the meeting’s mood was positive generating optimism it could lead to increased harmonization between Asia-Pacific industry stakeholders.

In the past airlines have been hampered by differing operating regulations between countries in the Asia-Pacific. A recurring issue is varying separation distances between flights, meaning airliners have to slow down or speed up as they move from one nation’s airspace to another, resulting in increased fuel costs and emissions.

Another goal, of a single regional regulatory body for aviation, as exists in Europe, continued to fall on deaf ears at the Seoul gathering.

But there is a realization a higher level of standardization and co-operation must be introduced among Asia-Pacific aviation regulators. The pandemic is far from over and airlines and airports are deep in debt and mostly still reporting losses.

At airports, passengers are enduring huge queues and lengthy delays as a result of key staff shortages. Former airline and airport employees have moved on during the pandemic, leaving critical gaps in the workforce at a time airlines are reinstating capacity. And the pandemic continues to bite. For example, at times at Sydney Airport, some 20% of staff are isolating after contracting COVID.

ACI Asia-Pacific has called for flexible regulatory policies, innovative procedures, greater efficiency and a better passenger experience as part of its long-term approach to help airports make a sustainable recovery. It expects the region’s regulators and ICAO to cooperate with industry stakeholders if it they want the sector to continue to be a key contributor to economic recovery.

The airport body made several recommendations to the ICAO conference, including capacity building, harmonization of policies and ambitious reforms it said are necessary for airports to be engines of economic and social progress in a sustainable manner.

“A flexible regulatory framework and innovative solutions are crucial to boost air travel,” Baronci said.

There needs to be One-Stop Security (OSS) as well as addressing the airport manpower shortage. Conference delegates agreed airport employment must be more attractive in the long-term and airports must ensure there is sufficient staff at processing points such as immigration, customs and security to accommodate demand without delays.

The ICAO conference also encouraged governments to consider input and recommendations from airports and airlines when assessing opportunities for One-stop Security (OSS). “OSS has been discussed for many years. The potential benefits it can bring to the security and efficiency of the entire air transport industry are widely acknowledged. However, the implementation of OSS is still limited worldwide, especially in the Asia-Pacific,” said ACI Asia-Pacific.

“In particular, the conference recommended States include the Airport Carbon Accreditation and APEX (Airport Excellence) in Safety in their National Aviation Plans. That is a strong incentive for ACI Asia-Pacific to continue to assist developing countries in building capacity consistently with the ICAO Policy of No Country Left behind. The upcoming 41st ICAO Assembly in September will be a critical juncture for building consensus at global level on important initiatives related to the decarbonization of the sector and harmonization of health measures,” Baronci said.

The conference urged States, especially those that have not certified all their international airports, to include APEX in Safety in their National Aviation Safety Plan. APEX in Safety is a peer assessment programme where voluntary airport safety and operations professionals conduct safety reviews of airports. The reviews have proved helpful in improving airport safety compliance.

In a gathering elsewhere in Seoul, at the Korean government hosted Conference on International Air Transport Cooperation, ICAO’s Sciacchitano underscored the UN body’s deep and long-standing commitment to regional and global cooperation. “After two years marked by the international public health crisis, and as proof of the demand for air services is evident worldwide, it is encouraging this conference is taking place under the theme of Leap Forward to Better Skies,” he said.

Recently in Singapore, Air Transport Action Group executive director, Haldane Dodd, urged regional governments to work with colleagues worldwide to adopt a long-term climate goal at the upcoming ICAO Assembly. “The Asia-Pacific not only spans a vast portion of the world and a range of countries from tiny island states to the world’s most populous nations, but it also is the fastest growing aviation market as more people have access to the benefits of connectivity. The tourism industry plays a vital role in many of these nations and is also vulnerable to climate change,” he said.

ICAO’s tough targets for global aviation
• ICAO progress, as a priority, the High-Level Conference on COVID (HLCC) 2021 recommendations and actions. It should develop a response framework for future health crises that draws on the recommendations, guidance and advice developed by the Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART).
• States enhance the use of digital health platforms where applicable and simplify processes by removing the need for airlines to check physical documents at check-in.
• Government agencies in individual States coordinate and collaborate to develop a single platform for the collection of comprehensive information about passengers and the issuance of digital notification of approval to travel.


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