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Striking the right balance

Dr Assad Kotaite, President Emeritus of the Council  of ICAO

Cooperation among all aviation stakeholders is essential to a robust and enduring future

Dr. Kotaite, President Emeritus, ICAO

In the century since the first commercial flight, air transport has evolved into a global mass transportation system and a catalyst for economic, social, and cultural development worldwide. It offers a base for peace and development. It creates millions of jobs.

In 1945, one year after the Chicago Conference, nine million people were travelling by air. When I first joined ICAO in 1953 as a member of its Legal Committee, the world’s airlines carried 52.4 million passengers. When I retired as President of the Council of the Organization 53 years later, they transported over two billion passengers on scheduled services alone and today, more than three billion.

In spite of a quantum leap in passengers and departures through the years, air travel is as safe as it has ever been. It is also as secure and as environmentally responsible. This remarkable achievement resulted in part from the development by ICAO, and the implementation by its Member States, of more than 10,000 universally recognized standards, procedures, and policies covering every aspect of safety, security, and environmental protection.  

Just as critical to the safe and orderly development of civil aviation was the commitment of airlines, airports, air navigation service providers, manufacturers, and all other stakeholders to work together in ensuring the integrity of global air transport.

For example, coordination between the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program (USOAP), which checks States’ compliance with ICAO Standards, and the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) for airlines continues to play a key role in improving safety. Our ultimate goal must always be zero accidents and zero fatalities. 

Above all, it was the realization that civil aviation is fundamentally a human endeavor, one where human beings are dedicated to enhancing the well-being of others wherever they may be across the planet, for business and pleasure, in good times and moments of natural disasters.

But what of the future? By 2030, ICAO forecasts the number of passengers will reach six billion annually and the number of departures more than 60 million. IATA sees the potential for that to grow to 16 billion passengers and 400 million tons of cargo by 2050. Aviation carbon emissions are being carefully managed. The objective is to reach a carbon neutral growth from 2020 and a 50% emission reduction by 2050. Governments, airlines, airports, air navigation service providers, and manufacturers should focus and agree on investment in technology, effective operation, efficient infrastructure, and positive economic measures. 

For that to materialize, we must build on the technical and operational successes of the past. At the same time, we must provide for a regulatory framework that allows the air transport industry to adjust to the evolving marketplace realities of a globalized economy.  It is a challenge of truly planetary proportions. In the course of 100 years, air transport has grown into an essential, indispensable component of our “global village.” In many ways, it has become too big to fail. As the irreversible process of liberalization of the industry unfolds, we must continually strive for balance. While there can be no growth in air transport without safety and security, no civil aviation can prosper without sound economic policy and good governance.

Achieving and maintaining this sometime-elusive balance has been for me a life-long mission. Throughout, I was inspired by the Convention on International Civil Aviation and its Preamble that reflects the will of States “that international civil aviation may be developed in a safe and orderly manner and that international air transport services may be established on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically.”

In the second century of commercial flight, the key to meeting that goal will be total and unfailing collaboration among all members of the world aviation community.  And as it has always been, ICAO will remain the global forum for the expression of this universal desire for cooperation and dialogue among nations of the world.

For more information visit the ICAO website.

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