L-R: Capt. Musa Nuhu, Nigeria's Rep. on ICAO Council; Capt. Edward Boyo, CEO of Overland Airways; Capt. Muhtar Usman, DG NCAA;  Mr. Abu Bakarr Kamara, DG Sierra Leone CAA and Dr Paul-Antoine Ganemtore, Project Director, Air Transport, ECOWAS Commission at the Second ICAO Meeting on the Sustainable Development of Air Transport in Africa held in Accra, Ghana recently

The West African region is Africa's most under-developed air transport region, though with huge potentials. None of Africa's biggest five airlines emanates from this region, and West Africa is lagging in terms of MRO and general aviation infrastructure. But this is not all the challenge, as the majority of its over 360million population does not use air transport for movement, while the ECOWAS economy is at low level of industrialization, and currently produces mainly agricultural produce and minerals.

The difficulty of interconnecting city-pairs or traversing the region's 15 States despite initiatives to establish a single air transport market and visa-free moment of citizens in the region is a source of concern in the region. On this score, ECOWAS States convened the Special Meeting of ECOWAS States in Accra, Ghana on March 28, 2017 held alongside the Second ICAO Meeting of Sustainable Air Transport in Africa, to seek ways of improving flight connections in the region.

Capt. Edward Boyo, Moderator of the Panel of Experts that proffered ideas to improve interconnectivity within ECOWAS, underlines the importance of ensuring that ECOWAS airlines are sustainable and healthy to be able to provide connections in ECOWAS, since the region's airlines are challenged by difficulties in the operating environment such as high taxes, etc. "No Airlines, no connection," emphasizes Capt. Boyo, who is the CEO of Overland Airways, as he calls for governments to prioritize support to airlines in the region.

The Meeting in Accra, which the ICAO Council President, Olumuyiwa Berard Aliu, suggests should become a periodic event, puts ECOWAS States wise to difficulties that suppress flight connections in the region, which are largely akin to those in the wider African continent. The experts call for improved liberalization and implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) as opposed to excessive reliance on Bilateral Air Services Agreement which ought to have been overtaken by the YD.

To help airlines cut cost and improve their fleet, the Meeting urges airlines to negotiate for aircraft as a group; while States should abide by ICAO guiding documents on taxation and charges. Airlines in the region should also increase partnerships to benefit from economies of scale, and afford passengers ease of movement within and outside the region.

The Meeting deems it necessary that the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and ECOWAS "must continue to cooperate to support air transport and ensure that AFCAC exercise its mandate. ECOWAS should take the lead in the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with AFCAC."

Furthermore, according to Dr. Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu, President of ICAO Council, ICAO is committed to supporting ECOWAS Member States in the development of air transport, in particular under the No Country Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. He encourages ECOWAS States to strengthen safety in the region, noting that "on the critical issue of safety, considerable progress has been made in recent years, and that no countries in this sub-region are any longer associated with ICAO Significant Safety Concerns (SSCs)."

It is important to also recall that the signature of the Solemn declaration should not be an end in itself, admonishes Dr. Aliu. "Operators of ECOWAS States still need to meet the eligibility criteria under articles 6.9 and 6.12 of the YD. In this regard, it is unfortunate that 5 States in this region are still below the 60% target of Effective Implementation as agreed to in the Abuja Declaration on Aviation Safety in the AFI Region," he says.

Importantly, the ECOWAS Meeting calls for the  strengthening of the Air Transport Structure and staffing of the ECOWAS Commission; as well as strengthening of the representation of ECOWAS in ICAO. Beyond this, the Meeting emphasizes the establishment of a High Level Group to support the work of the ECOWAS Commission Steering Committee, to be chaired by Dr. Silué Sinaly, Director of Infrastructure at the Presidency of Cote d'Ivoire. The group will be composed of: Mr. Simon Allotey; Mr. Ousmane Issoufou Oubandawaki, Ministre Conseiller à la Présidence de la République du Niger, former Director General of ASECNA; Mr. Christian Folly-Kossi, President and CEO, International Counsulting and Advisory Services (ICAS), Advisor to several African Heads of State; and Capt. Edward Boyo, CEO, Overland Airways.

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