Aviation: No country left behind | Sunday Observer

Aviation: No country left behind

We often hear that the world has become smaller – the term Global Village is commonly used. But what has made this possible ? The answer is Air Travel. Commercial air travel began in the early 1920s (some of these airlines such as KLM are still flying) and today, every little dot in the world is connected to other parts of the world. Today, one can travel from any country in the world to any other country very quickly.

Last Friday (7), the world celebrated International Civil Aviation Day with the aim of reinforcing worldwide awareness of the importance of international civil aviation to the social and economic development of States, and of the unique role of the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in helping States to cooperate and realise a truly global rapid transit network at the service of all mankind.

As the UN and world nations have now adopted Agenda 2030, and embarked on a new era in global sustainable development, the importance of aviation as an engine of global connectivity has never been more relevant to the Chicago Convention’s objectives, to look to international flight as a fundamental enabler of global peace and prosperity.

International Civil Aviation Day

Every five years, coinciding with ICAO anniversaries the ICAO Council establishes a special anniversary theme for International Civil Aviation Day. Between these anniversary years, Council representatives select a single theme for the full four-year intervening period. For 2015-2018 the Council has selected the following theme: ‘Working Together to Ensure No Country is Left Behind’.

The campaign highlights ICAO’s efforts to assist States in implementing ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs). The main goal of this work is to help ensure that SARP implementation is better harmonized globally so that all States have access to the significant socio-economic benefits of safe and reliable air transport and can address safety, security and emissions-related issues.

In 1944, delegates from 54 nations gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Stevens Hotel in Chicago at the invitation of the United States of America. At this event, the participants concluded and signed the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known more popularly as the ‘Chicago Convention’, the defining international agreement which has since permitted the global civil aviation system to develop peacefully and in a manner benefitting all peoples and nations of the world.

International Civil Aviation Day was established in 1994 as part of ICAO’s 50th anniversary activities. In 1996, pursuant to an ICAO initiative and with the assistance of the Canadian Government, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which officially recognized December 7 as International Civil Aviation Day in the UN system. The document recalled “that the preamble to the Convention states that the future development of international civil aviation can greatly help to create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world.”

Today, at any given time, over 13,000 civilian commercial aircraft are in the air. Almost every country has a national airline (some of which have been privatized) and there are hundreds of private airlines too. The rise of Ultra Low Cost Carriers (ULCCs) has made air travel much more affordable. They make the base fare very appealing by charging extra for baggage, meals and premium seats and many people who merely want to travel from A to B without all the frills take these flights. At the other end of the scale, First Class has gone even more upscale with ‘residences’ and ‘suites’ and business class now features lie-flat beds. There is enough business for both sectors to thrive, but the legacy or traditional carriers have seen their profits dwindle in the face of the intense competition from budget carriers.

But the competition has raised another worry over safety and crew training. The recent crash of a Lion Air plane in Indonesia has highlighted certain shortcomings in training as the pilots seemed unaware of some safety mechanisms in their brand new Boeing 737 Max 8. No corners should be cut in pilot and crew training, as well trained crew can evacuate a plane in 90 seconds flat – as demonstrated by the crew of an Emirates plane which caught fire at the Dubai International Airport.

Most airlines share another concern – a looming shortage of pilots in the next few decades. Leading aircraft manufacturer Boeing has predicted that 637,000 pilots would be needed by 2037 as the world aviation market soars. This is a huge number and more parents must encourage their children to take up piloting as a career. It is an exciting way to see and connect with the world. Obviously, the world will also need more aircraft and there will be room for other players beside Airbus and Boeing, including Sukhoi (Russia), Comac (China) and Embraer (Brazil).

The number of aircraft in the skies will more than double by 2037, according to the latest Global Market Forecast by Airbus. The Toulouse-based plane maker says half the present 21,450 aircraft flying will still be aloft in 20 years. With 37,390 new planes predicted to take off, the world’s total will increase by 123 per cent to 47,990. The expected total number of aircraft is 11.3 per cent higher than it was in the last big forecast by Airbus, a year ago.

New planes

The vast majority of the new planes will be smaller, narrow-bodied jets. More than three-quarters of deliveries will be from the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, or aircraft of a similar scale from other manufacturers. New generations of planes such as, the Airbus A350 and the Boeing Dreamliner 787 have opened previously nonviable routes. Qantas now flies direct to London from Perth while Singapore Airlines flies from their home base to Newark, with both flights taking nearly 20 hours. In the meantime, most airlines have retired the “Queen of the Skies” Boeing 747 and even the massive Airbus A380 is struggling to get more orders as airlines give priority to fuel efficient twin-engined long range airliners. Electric airplanes are still at an experimental stage but could be in service by around 2050, while supersonic planes too could make a comeback. In fact, All of Norway’s short-haul airliners should be entirely electric by 2040, the country’s airport operator said earlier this year.

The Asia Pacific region will be the biggest air travel market in the few decades with intra-Asian travel gaining the top slot. Sri Lanka is well poised to take advantage of this situation. Colombo has already become a mini-hub for travel to India, the Maldives, Seychelles and Australia and it could assume more significance with the planned expansion of the Bandaranaike International Airport by 2021. We should move fast to take advantage of the coming aviation boom.