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Tue 20 Nov 2007 11:29 AM

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On board

Mohammed Ghanim Al Ghaith, director general of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, tells Aviation Business about the organisation's admission to the industry's leading council.

Mohammed Ghanim Al Ghaith, director general of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, tells Aviation Business about the organisation's admission to the industry's leading council.

Why was the General Civil Aviation Authority elected to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Authority?

Aviation equipment and aircraft have changed, so we think the regulations must also change.

There are certain councils within ICAO which is vital for the whole world. It covers air transport in general and is important because it's the kitchen where the members cook the regulations. Some regulations have an impact on certain airlines and countries. They are introduced to enhance safety and security, while other legislation covers different issues in the industry. Some decisions are politically driven, which is meant to assist many cultures and big powers that are trying to promote new technologies and aircraft. They go through the regulators to make it mandatory for the whole world. It's a business.

The council is a group with different countries carrying their own interests. If you are elected to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, you can at least work with other countries where you think your interests lie. That's why we were keen to have a seat on the council. The aviation industry is the biggest in the Middle East and our airlines are the fastest growing in the world. This interest needs to be protected by working with other countries and making sure there is no harm to our growth.

Is it difficult to protect your interests when you are not on the world council?

Of course because these 36 countries which are the rule makers. They will make a decision and when you are part of the council you become a contributing factor. But when you're not there, you can only say yes or no to proposals. It's very difficult to get on the council and we have been working for three years to get here. It's our first try but there are many countries that try for years and don't succeed.
Why have you succeeded where others failed?

Our country is important to most others across the world. We buy aircraft from Europe and America and are promoting the industry around the globe. Everybody in the world has ties with us and knows we have a vision, the infrastructure and leadership in place. We have everything, but the election comes down to politics with countries supporting each other.

Our airlines fly all over the world and we need to know what kind of service and treatment passengers should expect from this region when flying to other countries.

We work on many fronts with most of the countries supporting us. Some were reluctant because they think we are a threat to them - we are a small but strong country so some are jealous of us. But at the end of the day, we managed to get there. We are here for three years and will go through the same election process after that. But once you are there and prove you deserve the seat you should be re-elected. The difficulty is getting there.

How does your role change now that you have been elected?

On an international level there are lots of ways and means which ICAO is applying today. The countries involved need to help the aviation industry in third world or developing countries because safety and security are a concern. Airlines fly to what we call the grey zones where they require assistance and that only comes from developing those particular areas. It's about coming up with specific setups for different areas to enhance the aviation, safety and security in areas where it's most needed, like the subcontinent countries and Africa. They need help and don't get it, but we have the experience to help ICAO find and close these loopholes.

What issues are you keen to address at upcoming ICAO meetings?

Safety and security is the aim. Our airlines fly all over the world and we need to know what kind of service and treatment passengers should expect from this region when flying to other countries. This is what I care about because my neighbour's problems are also mine if I fly to that country. I need to secure our passengers and make sure they fly in safe aircraft to safe environments. The role of ICAO is to come up with new destinations and a system for flights to those areas.
Before joining the council, was it difficult to get your points across?

Usually there are working papers submitted by all countries involved in the industry for review and everyone makes comments and has their say. They submit everything and the members make their comments based on what's been provided. But it's difficult to be involved if you are not in the 36 countries.

During the last meeting in Montreal, ICAO's 2008-2010 programme was discussed. What issues did you cover?

If you are elected to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, you can at least work with other countries where you think your interests lie.

There are many issues such as gas emissions, ageing aircraft and future air navigation systems. Safety is a big one and we also looked at reforming ICAO to change some of the procedures. It's an old organisation and we need to work with other members to make sure that systems are modernised. In terms of gas emissions, it's a complex issue and airlines are the end-user.

There are many other issues such as airspace congestion, with countries having rules to ensure there are no delays or holdings. When an aircraft is in holding for half an hour at an airport it creates more pollution, so it's not the pilots' fault. Manufacturers should also be blamed for not providing machines that create less pollution. Why do we have to tax airlines? The issue has to be looked at to find out who the main contributors are. You need to come up with new ideas and handle each issue individually, such as reducing air traffic. But some countries and groups would like to impose restrictions on airlines only and not manufacturers or other nations.

What other issues will you be focusing on in the next three years?

We have the Chicago Convention which was established in 1944 when planes were more basic, but now we have the super-jet. Since that time, many things have changed and we now fly the supersonic aircraft. Aviation equipment and aircraft have changed, so we think the regulations and laws must also change to accommodate new technology.
However, you have to take into consideration that some clauses might need to be maintained for the rest of the world. We are talking to all the member countries to make sure something is done. But we don't want to open up the whole chapter for discussion. We have to address the main issues within that convention, which need to be changed and there are certain things that we need to maintain. If we open it, everybody will put their fingers in and we don't want that. There needs to be a guarantee that certain issues, which have an impact on modernisation, are changed. Once we do this, we can start reforming ICAOs' recruitment process and methodology, and come up with different ideas for further developing these countries.

Are you confident the Middle East has strong safety measures in place compared with other countries?

We are here as a regulator to make sure the UAE is a safe and secure environment for everybody.

I cannot talk about others, I can only talk about my country. Priority was given to safety and security in this country. We are here as a regulator to make sure the UAE is a safe and secure environment for everybody. This is our priority and that is why we came up with an autonomous body like the GCAA. One of the issues ICAO keeps talking about is giving autonomy to the civil aviation departments in respective countries in order to develop. Once they do that, the countries will have enough resources to secure safety and security.

This country has taken more than a decade covering this issue, so we have put all the emphasis on safety and security to make sure all airports are secure. We have also concentrated on ensuring safe skies for all airlines, good training facilities and programmes. There has been huge focus on establishing relationships with universities, flight clubs and institutions and airport facilities to strengthen safety.

What are your domestic plans for the coming months?

In January, we are holding an aviation summit covering all safety issues. It will be in Abu Dhabi and it's the first time this event is being held in the Middle East. We also have an air traffic control centre in Abu Dhabi that will be launched next year. It will be the biggest in the Middle East and is expected to handle growth for the next 25 years.

BackgroundThe General Civil Aviation Authority was created in 1996 by Federal Cabinet Decree to regulate civil aviation and develop safety and security within the UAE. Since 1996 the authority has made considerable progress and introduced new initiatives to provide better services to clients and stakeholders. It has also implemented several new projects and facilities, such as the air traffic control centre program and radar equipment.

Since its inception as a former directorate, the authority has:

• Moved to headquarters in Abu Dhabi, which contain an ATC centre and other supporting facilities

• Opened a regional office in Dubai to serve clients in the Northern emirates.

• Establish civil aviation services such as air traffic control systems; regulations and AIP upgrades; flight safety procedures and internal HR structures and policies.

• Developed the nationalisation program by securing certification of national personnel for flight safety; air navigation and administration and finance.

• Established scheduled active audits of all UAE aircrafts operators, international airports and dangerous goods forwarders to ensure aviation safety in operations, airworthiness and security functions.

• Introduced satellite navigation global positioning systems (GPS) approach procedures for Dubai International Airport - the first in the Middle East.

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