Tag: Aviation policy

Back to the Future

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A re-think for the think-tank on ATM policy.

Yesterday, during the World ATM Congress, a group of industry players launched a think-tank on how the efficiency and performance of air traffic management (ATM) can be improved through greater market liberalisation. I have worked the related policy questions for close to 20 years, first at IATA and then at CANSO in its representation to ICAO, so I cannot help but comment on yet another noble initiative…. Unfortunately, over the years there has been lots of study and debate, but little action to effect the real change we want to see. If we want to improve the efficiency and performance of ATM, and fundamentally change how air navigation services are provided, then we would do well to look to the past – how it all started – with a view to what the future could look like.

In the early days of commercial aviation, it was the airlines themselves that provided for their own navigation aids. Companies like KLM and Imperial Airways established beacons along their routes to the far east. And, traffic control techniques at airports were introduced by the airports themselves, working with the aircraft operators. This all changed after WWII, with the signing of the Chicago Convention wherein each contracting State committed to provide air navigation facilities and services in accordance with international standards. In essence, the responsibility for these tasks was taken away from the airlines and airports. Unfortunately, liberalisation of air traffic management as proposed in the policy paper, either through competition for selected ATM services (i.e. competition for the market) or corporatised (or privatised) ANSPs operating independent of government, does not offer a suitable alternative to true competition (i.e. competition in the market) since both approaches can be gamed by the actors involved. This approach would amount to a mere “tinkering at the edges”, and has already been variously tried.

The best way to accomplish true competition and real change is to turn over the responsibility of service provision back to those who do in fact compete in the market – the airlines themselves (“Sorry, as States we have made a mess of it, and we wish to turn the responsibility of service provision back over to you!”) In meeting this responsibility, the airlines can contract with global companies that provide the communications, navigation and surveillance services that are needed en route in a more efficient manner, much of which is now already satellite-based, and making full use of modern aircraft capabilities. Airports likewise can contract with entities that provide traffic control services in and around the airport, or provide the services themselves. These services would need to be provided at competitive prices since airlines can and do make choices on where they fly and at what frequency. Airports have long maintained that they compete for traffic, thus it stands to reason that they are already incentivised to be cost-competitive. If they are not, their connectivity to the world and the cities they serve will suffer.

Article 28 of the Chicago Convention will at the very least need to be re-interpreted to reflect modern times and available technology. At worst, it will need to be rewritten to reflect the fundamental responsibility that only the State can and should provide – regulatory oversight. States should ensure that aircraft operators have made the necessary arrangements for the availability of facilities and services to facilitate air navigation in a safe manner, to be provided in accordance with international standards and practices agreed for the most part by the industry itself. This will also put a stop to the micro-management by the regulatory community in a service function that should rightly rest with industry. The pace of technological change is just too fast for ICAO and the regulatory community to keep pace, and therefore it must adopt a performance-based regulatory regime.

Yes, what I am suggesting is radical. It entails a break-up of the monopoly air navigation services industry and a fundamental restructure that will result in new organisational forms and arrangements. This is not dissimilar to telecommunications deregulation and the break-up of the PTTs in the 1980s and 90s, which was urged on by public calls for dependable, technologically advanced and reasonably priced services. Further, the advent of the internet has been a significant disruptive force for the telecommunications industry. Such disruptive forces are equally at play for air traffic management that can render the role of the air navigation service provider irrelevant. States can best serve this industry by preparing it for competition, for it will be overrun by technology advancements. The question is: will the industry step up and be the change it wants to see?

Rwanda – a Country on the Move in Aviation

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En route back to Montreal after participating in the AviationAfrica conference this week in Kigali, Rwanda, I was struck by the enthusiasm participants had for the future of aviation in Africa. The event was expertly organised by Alan Peaford and his team at African Aerospace magazine, and brought together leaders from airlines, airports, manufacturers, technology providers and many others to address the challenges, but also the tremendous opportunities Africa presents for aviation – from open skies policies to airport expansions, financing and manpower training, safety and security, as well as the introduction of UAVs. And, in many ways Rwanda is leading the way – it is a country on the move. The event was honoured by the presence of President Paul Kagami, who expressed that for Africa to achieve significant success in tourism and trade, the continent must embrace open skies. Rwanda has stepped up, and is pursuing efforts towards the creation of a single African air transport market. This is the kind of pro-business and visionary leadership that a panel of airline CEOs confirmed as essential to building a vibrant air transport market in Africa.

The panel on UAVs that I participated in also demonstrated how Rwanda is leading the way in reaping the benefits of this new technology while addressing the risks in a pragmatic way. The approach of the Rwandan CAA – the regulator – has been to work in a collaborative manner with UAV operators who must demonstrate the safety case for UAS operations. UAV operator Zipline is providing a valuable service to public health in Rwanda by being able to deliver vital drugs and blood products to remote locations that are otherwise hard to reach. As Will Hetzler – COO of Zipline – explained, Rwanda has been an ideal proofing ground for the beyond-visual-line-of-sight delivery drone concept, the type of operation that is still not allowed in most jurisdictions, but is the way of the future. Much in the same way that Africa was an early adopter of mobile phone payment systems, it is also at the forefront in the adoption of UAV technologies, which in my view will extend to the integration of artificial intelligence and fully autonomous operations. While the adoption of new technologies in Africa has been driven by necessity, the continent also does not have to contend with legacy systems and institutional hurdles that stymie their introduction in the West.

Safety is often raised as a major hurdle to the development of aviation in Africa. Yet, what I heard from participants was tremendous concern over this reputation and interest in improvement and learning from the experience of others. “Knowledge without wisdom is like water in sand” is a Guinean proverb I cited to start off the panel discussion on safety. There has been a great amount of planning, best practice guidance and training material produced over the years to improve aviation safety, especially in Africa. The knowledge exists. It is now necessary to make use of this knowledge and experience for deeper understanding of what drives safety improvement. It starts with good governance. In Africa, political will and commitment is essential, as are strong and sustainable institutions that will ensure good governance and safety performance. The development of a robust safety culture requires a solid foundation. Further, the operational level needs to be empowered to “live and breathe” safety in such a way that it becomes the number one priority and concern for those on the frontline, who can act and report without fear of retribution. In the end, safety is everyone’s business. It’s a team sport. My sum-up was that safety improvement requires good governance; good safety culture; and above all, good teamwork. And, my sense from the conference participants was that this was the wisdom they had already embraced.