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​Safety worries raised with Asean skies set to get more crowded

Published on: 01-Oct-2018

The number of flights in Asean skies could triple to more than 20,000 a day in 15 years, raising safety and security concerns at the United Nations.

The worry is that not all 10 member countries may be able to cope with the growth, said the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

To stress the urgent need for action, UN officials and representatives from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) were in Bangkok last month to meet with South-east Asian government officials and other stakeholders, over three days from Sept 12 to 14.

It was the first such ICAO-EASA regional initiative, the European authority told The Straits Times.

ICAO secretary-general Fang Liu told the gathering that air traffic in the region is projected to grow strongly, on the back of air traffic liberalisation and greater regional economic integration.

This will provide tremendous opportunities for aviation and economic stakeholders, but not without major challenges, she warned.

"Many (Asean countries) are already challenged to varying extents in terms of their aviation safety and security oversight operations," she said.

Cyber threats are also a growing concern.

She said: "We must recognise, together, the urgent importance of protecting civil aviation's critical infrastructure, data, and IT and communications systems in an environment of increasing cyber threats."

Many countries in the region continue to struggle to comply with international aviation safety standards specifically because they lack sufficient human resources and technical capacities, she added.

Other experts pointed out that cheaper, safer and more environmentally sustainable aviation with fewer delays for air travellers will be possible with better integration of air traffic management systems.

EASA's executive director Patrick Ky said: "It will soon become irrelevant how many passengers the airlines carry, (how many) aircraft are bought or (how many) freedoms of the air are agreed.

"If the air traffic management system cannot handle the demand, the only thing that is created are delays."

Professor Guido Gianasso, associate dean at the Nanyang Business School, said: "Safety, security and infrastructure are all big challenges... However, the biggest challenge is the availability of skilled human resources to support regional growth."

Aviation training should be the first priority, stressed Prof Gianasso, who is academic director for the Iata-Nanyang Advanced Management Programme.

"Countries in the region can effectively handle the challenges of safety, security and infrastructure if they are able to deploy aviation professionals who are well equipped to successfully operate in our rapidly changing environment," he said.

Partnerships between civil aviation authorities and airports on the one hand and universities on the other can help, he added.

The Nanyang Business School, for example, is working with both ICAO and the International Air Transport Association (Iata) to develop a new generation of aviation professionals.

Temasek Polytechnic also partners airports, airlines and other industry players such as Vinci Airports and Reapra to develop training programmes for the industry.

Mr Abbas Ismail, course manager for the diploma in aviation management and services at the polytechnic, noted that while much has been done to grow traffic and infrastructure, the same cannot be said of the development of human capital.

"At the end of the day, the magic of aviation is delivered by both investments in modern and advanced infrastructure and well-trained manpower to meet the growing needs of our customers," he said.

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