24 March 2020
I hope each one of you and your families and close ones are keeping well and have managed to distance yourselves from the Corona Virus (COVID-19).
My purpose, through this communication, is to assure you that we are in this together. For some of us the situation may have raised our anxiety level, but for many others which could include some of you, the perspective for your organisation and its implication for you might be grim, though I wish to hastily add that I hope not. I wish to take up from where matters have rested, after the dispatch of the AeSM mail announcing the cancellation/postponement of the events scheduled for the 19thof this month, viz. the much awaited Interactive-Session, promised by Raj Makoond, which would have permitted us to take a deep breath and dissect what the future would have in store for aviation, aerospace and astronautics and its likely effect on our economy driven by air transport. The second event scheduled for the same evening was the Annual General Meeting of AeSM, normally a routine affair, except in regard to our future programme and some important announcements. The holding of an AGM is a legal requirement, which we will hold as soon as the prevailing Emergency is lifted.
However as regards the proposed Inter-Active Session, we recognise that whatever we could have envisioned is already with us and has even exceeded our imagination, going on to become a global challenge with catastrophic consequences for the global air transport sector and economies dependent on air transport. Much harm has already been done and if such a situation is prolonged, it will be a different world that will emerge from the chaos resulting from COVID-19. It will be a miracle if the air transport industry, and that includes our national carrier, escapes the certain consequences of both COVID-19 and the likely remedial and recovery measures that will follow. At the 4thMeeting of its 219thSession held on 9thMarch, earlier this month, ICAO Council adopted the COVID-19 Declaration which had, inter-alia, “Expressed concern at the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on air transport and civil aviation”.
Experts in Air Transport must have certainly started to examine all the facets and elements of the COVID-19 crash, and I have neither the intention at the moment nor the competence to interfere with their thought process. Let it suffice for me to quote from ICAO’s NEWS RELEASE of 23rdMarch.
QUOTE”: “Worldwide air transport connectivity stimulates economies through employment, trade and tourism, and supports States in achieving the Agenda 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” President Sciacchitano explained.
“The Council of ICAO is calling on States and financial institutions to examine the best means of supporting sectoral stakeholders, airlines, airports, air navigation service providers, manufacturers, without prejudice to fair competition and by ensuring transparency.”
Only by implementing, on an urgent basis, efficient public policies and strategies in the aviation sector will a recovery of the worldwide economy after the pandemic be more easily achieved,” concluded President Sciacchitano.” UNQUOTE
The air transport industry has, in our own times, been hit hard by occurrences, among which we reckon the 1991-92 Gulf War, the 2002-04 SARS Pandemic, as well as the Financial Crisis of 2008. None of the lessons learnt from these past events can find any application this time. The events which are following in quick succession, including the complete lockdown of large and small countries are unprecedented and can at best be likened to a trailer/scenario from a World War III movie. The situation is worse than prevailed prior to the advent of the aeroplane, but COVID-19 has made us realise the space that the medical, paramedical, the security personnel, our maids and all those whose job is to produce and make available and deliver our critical daily needs occupy in our life. We salute them; their health concerns take priority over our own. We must also recognise the importance of top-level policy makers, a well-oiled administrative machinery and the sense of discipline of our citizens.
Where does the AeSM fit in? The AeSM was founded by two Fellows of the Royal Aeronautical Society, viz. Captain Richard (Dick) Twomey, former Director of Flight Operations of Air Mauritius and Mr Arjoon Suddhoo Executive Director of MRC (now MRIC) and past Chair of Air Mauritius, with assistance of a few colleagues from the aviation sector and aviation enthusiasts. We would like to pride ourselves of being a small copy of the Royal Aeronautical Society, having adopted the latter’s aims and objectives, and in particular our wish to be the voice of the Mauritian aviation community.
The ICAO News Release has struck a chord within the AeSM: Last year, in the wake of the budgetary consultations initiated by the PM Hon Pravin Jugnauth, then also Minister of Finance, AeSM which was concerned about lack of information in the public domain about Government policy for the aviation sector and data on infrastructural developments in that sector, had set up a Think Tank to consider and make aviation and aerospace related proposals to the Government. A Paper was produced and discussed with some eminent personalities in the business world, after which it was sent to the Minister of Finance. The gist of our paper was a proposal to establish an umbrella dept or unit within the PM’s office (which we referred to as the Aviation/Aerospace/ Astronautics Hub) for integrating all initiatives, proposals, strategies and development plans of the various organisations in the sector, and formulating an integrated policy which could better prepare Mauritius to cope with the forecasted exponential increase in Air Traffic made by IATA, ICAO, AFRAA, Airbus Industrie and various aviation pundits; these having the potential to translate into an explosion in air transport related activities, including facilities for aircraft maintenance, training of air transport Pilots and Aircraft Maintenance Engineers, and make Air Travel and Aerospace activities the main pillar of the Mauritian economy.
AeSM was happy to note that the Budgetary Speech contained an intention to create an Airport City.
We would like to submit that our proposal is not remote from the advice tendered by ICAO in its News Release.
Now that the boundaries of the scope of the proposed Interactive session have been pushed back, I am sure Raj Makoond will have a variant to propose to us. You yourself can also use the unaccustomed free time at home to dream up new ideas to boost our comeback later in the year. Alongside the number one priority of looking after our families, spend time communicating with each other and planning an even more interactive future for your AeSM.
We shall be back full of action just as soon as government gives the “All Clear”.