Muhammad Ali Albakri Muhammad Ali Albakri

Q & A with Muhammad Ali Albakri, Regional Vice President, Africa and Middle East, International Air Transport Association (IATA)

WITH AIR TRAFFIC EXPECTED TO CONTINUE TO SOAR, SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGES RELATED TO SAFETY, SECURITY, AND SUSTAINABILITY HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED BY GOVERNMENTS AND INDUSTRY STAKEHOLDERS.

MUHAMMAD ALI ALBAKRI, REGIONAL VICE PRESIDENT, AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST, IATA, EXPLAINS HOW THE ORGANISATION ENSURES THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF SAFETY AND DISCUSSES THE INDUSTRY'S LATEST EFFORTS TO REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What are IATA's priorities for the upcoming years regarding aviation in the MENA region and what initiatives have been implemented to ensure the highest levels of safety and security?

MUHAMMAD ALI ALBAKRI: Safety and security are the industry's priorities. Every accident makes us even more determined to make aviation safer.

Two of IATA's key initiatives in this area are the IATA Operational Safety Audit and the Global Aviation Data Management projects.

Both initiatives help airlines to more easily exchange safety information, by collecting and analysing aviation data while also identifying and mitigating risks.

Flying is secure but there are risks and challenges as well as threats including landside exposure at airports, over flight of conflict zones, and cyber security.

Efficient airport checkpoints are also important and our Smart Security programme is making them more effective and convenient […].

The 2017 UN Security Council Resolution reminded governments that keeping aviation secure is integral to a state's responsibility for national security. Governments can and must do more upping their game on intelligence gathering and sharing vital information among them and with the industry […].

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: Airports and airlines have made significant steps in managing their carbon emissions while adopting a greener business model. Does IATA promote any sustainable projects that you could share with us?

MUHAMMAD ALI ALBAKRI: Aiming to address the global challenges of climate change as well mitigate CO2 emissions, IATA adopted a set of ambitious targets including an improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5 percent year-on-year between 2009 – 2020 along with succeeding carbon-neutral growth by 2020 and reducing CO2 emissions by 50 percent until 2050.

In order to succeed these goals, a multi-faced, four-pillar strategy has been adopted and significant progress has been made. Technology has been improved with the deployment of sustainable low-carbon fuels. Sustainable alternative jet fuels are the only low-carbon fuels available for aviation in the short- to mid-term.

[…] Initiatives include promoting taxiing on one engine, encouraging airlines to retro-fit winglets, replacing pilot paper manuals with laptops, replacing heavy weight cabin equipment.

Infrastructure initiatives include airport operators working with air traffic management and airlines through collaborative decision making to identify optimal route, encouraging the use of satellite-based navigation systems allowing flights to operate optimal route.

ICAO's Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is the first global scheme covering an entire industrial sector. CORSIA is set to commence with a voluntary period (2021-2026) after which it will become mandatory.

By the end of the ICAO Assembly, 65 states had already volunteered to implement the scheme from its outset, covering approximately 80 percent of CO2 growth in 2021 – 2035. The operations, infrastructure and technology initiatives outlined above have delivered around two percent year-on-year efficiency improvements.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: In your opinion, which areas the MENA aviation industry need further improvements?

MUHAMMAD ALI ALBAKRI: There are a number of issues that continue to plague the Middle East that need to be addressed.

At the top of the list is infrastructure. […] Even more urgent is the need to modernise air traffic management in the Gulf region.

A recent study calculates average delays in the Gulf at 29 minutes with the potential to double by 2025. More expensive technology is not the solution. Regional cooperation is.

Without it, all the investment in world-class hubs will be compromised with gridlock.

We appreciate the many programmes that are in progress including the GCC Air Navigation Committee, the Middle East ATM Enhancement Programme and others.

But these efforts must be driven even harder to achieve a real breakthrough. The next issue is an unprecedented rise in taxes and charges across the region.

The majority of that is from passenger facility charges in the UAE and Qatar.

But we also see rises in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries. A low cost structure is a key component of the region's success particularly in the Gulf.

Every dollar that a passenger spends in the region creates jobs and spreads prosperity.

And every dollar collected in taxes or charges is an incentive for travellers to go elsewhere.

We must work together to reverse this unprecedented trend […].