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Somalia working to reclaim control of the skies

BY Martin Rivers

Airspace management is an integral part of any country in a world that I highly interconnected. It requires skilled manpower, cutting edge technology, coordination and cooperation with the outside world, strong institutions and stability a country.

Controlling the safe movement of aircraft into, out of and over a country’s skies is not merely a domestic affair. Events such as the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine underscore the interconnectivity of the world and how grave sub-standard domestic protocols can be.

The collapse of Somalia’s government in 1991 left the State unable to provide most basic services. The United Nations (UN) took over the country’s airspace management.

Since 1993 the UN has had overall responsibility for the country’s skies, processing civilian aircraft movements and over flights in the Horn of Africa nation. The programme specifically tasked with these duties is the Civil Aviation Caretaker Authority for Somalia (CACAS ), which operates out of Nairobi, Kenya.

Fulfilling much the same function as a Civil Aviation Authority elsewhere in the world, CACAS draws from the expertise and resources of two UN divisions: the International Civil Aviation

Organisation (ICAO ), which sets the rules for global air transport, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which provides humanitarian assistance to developing


CACAs mandate is to provide these services on ad hoc basis whilst the country puts necessary measures to eventually take over.

Efforts of transferring airspace control back to Mogadishu have been under way for years. But following several missed deadlines, the Federal Government of Somalia admits that currently they are not ready to meet stipulated international standards.

Rather than jeopardising safety by pushing forward with a handover, former

Transport Minister Said Korshel instead signed a transition agreement with ICAO in 2014. The agreement sets a tentative handover date of 2018.

“This project is the roadmap for the transition of airspace management back to Mogadishu,” affirms ICAO spokesperson Anthony Philbin to The Somalia Investor Magazine.

Philbin observes that the caretaker body ‘no longer exists’ because its mandate officially expired with the creation of the Federal Government of Somalia in 2012. However its dissolution is nominal.

CACAs officially changed its name to Flight Information Services for Somalia (FISS ). ICAO nonetheless continues to issue documentation under the CACAS acronym. The facilities and staff at CACAS have remained largely unchanged throughout the body’s successive overhaul. With its remit intact, CACAS maintains its focus on enabling safe and reliable operations through Somalia’s skies while also collecting over flight revenues on behalf of the Federal Government of Somalia.

The annual sum paid by airlines entering Somali airspace has averaged about $7M over the past five years. Philbin insists that managing air navigation services for the Mogadishu Flight Information Region, a block of airspace that covers all of Somalia plus parts of the Indian Ocean, is “business as usual” for the CACAs experts.

“There are no unique challenges associated with controlling Somali airspace from Nairobi,” he observes. “The challenges are the same as faced by many African countries: that is meeting ICAO standards in terms of technical and human resources.”

While the responsibility for the quality and safety of services lies with the air navigation service provider (CACAs), the obligation to ensure the rule of law and oversight of the service providers is that of the State.

It is important for the State to have the capacity to meet its oversight obligations under the convention of civil aviation. These obligations are set out in ICAO ’s 1994 Chicago Convention to which Somali is a signatory. ICAO ’s concerns about Somali oversight capabilities mimic perceived shortcomings elsewhere in Africa, notably Libya and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Airlines from both nations are banned from Europe due to the substandard competencies of their Civil Aviation Authorities. Without sufficient oversight at home, the argument goes, it is impossible for global regulators to enforce safety standards in these blacklisted countries.

Thus a key priority for ICAO and the Somali Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority (SCAMA), Somalia’s Civil Aviation Authority, is to ensure that Mogadishu attains full competency before, not after it assumes airspace control from CACAS . Training Somali air traffic controllers (AT C) will play a crucial role in delivering this goal. Philbin confirms that ICAO is involved with the training of Somali AT C staff. The UN agency is also procuring all the necessary equipment for modern air traffic management.

Parallel aviation training programmes are also being pursued elsewhere. In Mogadishu’s Aden Ade International Airport, Turkish development agency is helping to fund the construction of a new Aviation Training Academy that will eliminate the need to seek aviation training outside the country.

The semi-autonomous northern region of Somaliland has meanwhile sent two batches of aviation students to Nairobi and Addis Ababa to be trained as technicians, meteorologists and domestic AT C staff. Speaking at Hargeisa’s Egal International Airport in April, Mahmoud Hashi Abdi, Somaliland’s Aviation Minister, said the latest Ethiopian scholarships would pave the way for a new breed of indigenous aviation experts to manage local airspace.

Although the first group was sent to Nairobi in 2014 to work with ICAO , he criticised the UN agency because, in his view, it had neither cultivated competent Somali personnel, nor put in place procedures for a smooth handover.

Dissenting voices from Somaliland are unsurprising given the apparent failure of the Joint Airspace Management agreement between Mogadishu and Hargeisa. This was a AT C deal mediated by Turkey in 2013, but now abandoned by both sides. Somaliland’s government declared the agreement dead in July, accusing ICAO and the Federal Government of sidelining Hargeisa in the effort for Somalia to regain control of its airspace. The semi-autonomous region has always seen control of its airspace from Mogadishu as incompatible with its aspirations for Statehood. And whereas a 2013 agreement envisaged a central body in Hargeisa, Philbin confirms that Mogadishu had been agreed upon to be the main Area Control Centre (ACC).

However, he leaves the door open for future compromises to be hammered out between Mogadishu and Hargeisa, noting, “There is also provision to create another ACC in a location to be agreed upon by the involved parties.”

ICAO President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu met with Somalia’s current Transport Minister, Ali Ahmed Jama Jangali, in Canada in June, to reaffirm the roadmap laid down. The Minister stressed at the meeting that political disputes between Mogadishu and Hargeisa should not detract either side from their shared goal of restoring sovereignty in the skies.

Another controversy surrounding ICAO ’s activities in Somalia relates to the distribution of over flight revenues. Local media outlets have accused the UN agency of a lack of transparency in how it spends the $7M collected annually from over flights. Asked about this, Philbin reassures that revenue collected goes into a Somalia Trust Fund. The money is then invested into the Nairobi center, as well as local services in Mogadishu, Bosaso, Hargeisa and Berbera.

“ICAO ’s accounting policies and practices are audited by ICAO ’s external auditor on an annual basis,” he notes, flatly rejecting any suggestion of misappropriation. Only time will tell if the 2018 handover target is realistic. Both ICAO and the Federal Government of Somalia remain fully committed to an eventual repatriation of the control of the airspace to Somalia.

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