PORT VILA: Pacific regional aviation safety and security and the importance of the Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) during the COVID-19 pandemic was recognised by the PASO Council of Directors at their Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, 1 July 2020.
There was strong participation at the Council’s first virtual AGM from Council Members, who reinforced their desire to support and promote the importance of PASO during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AGM was attended by nine of the 10 signatories to the Pacific Islands Civil Aviation Safety and Security Treaty (PICASST) and three Associate Members.
COVID-19 disruption to Pacific aviation safety and security, and its impact on PASO’s governance and operations was the focus of the AGM. The PASO Council recognised the generous ongoing financial support from the New Zealand government to strengthen PASO with new $2.2million (NZD) funding provided in April.
The PASO Council also recommended re-scheduling the Regional Aviation Minister’s Meeting (RAMM) to early 2021 to continue to strategically progress and strengthen Pacific regional aviation and COVID-19 response and recovery.
“The pandemic has been devastating to the global economy, with no harder hit than the aviation sector. Disruption to aviation connectivity has been extreme and appears likely to remain that way for some time. Jobs across the world in the travel and tourism sector have been lost, and more are at risk. The future remains uncertain,” said outgoing PASO Chairperson, Mr. Wilson Sagati, OBE.
“We now face considerable COVID-19 disruptions to trade, tourism and regional connectivity and our region will need to be reactivated with safe aviation systems ready to respond when borders are opened once again.”
The PASO Council noted that PASO’s COVID response activities have entailed maintenance of business continuity, careful financial management, increased regional operational engagement, and active participation with key stakeholders, including the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat and fellow CROP members.
PASO’s Council of Directors paid tribute to the outstanding 13-year contribution of retiring Chairperson, Mr. Wilson Sagati, and his dedicated service to Pacific regional aviation safety on behalf of PASO Member State Papua New Guinea.
The PASO Council elected Member State Samoa to Chair the PASO Council. Mr. Magele Hoe J. Viali, the Secretary of Transport, Chief Executive Officer and Director General of Civil Aviation within the Samoan Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure will undertake the Chairperson role having previously been PASO’s Deputy Chair and Chair of the Finance Sub-Committee.
Vanuatu was appointed unopposed as the Deputy Chair of the Council and Chair of the Technical Sub-Committee, with Mr. Harrison Luen, Director General of Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Works, to perform the role on behalf of Vanuatu.
The Cook Islands was appointed unopposed as the Deputy Chair of the Council and Chair of the Finance Sub-Committee, with Mr. John Hosking to perform the role on behalf of the Cook Islands.
The Council’s AGM was led by Pacific government executive level transport officials from Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu with apologies from Tuvalu.
PASO’s Council resolved to maintain momentum to progress strengthening strategic regional aviation and transport mechanisms to address regional COVID-19 response and recovery and recommended a face to face RAMM in early 2021, subject to relaxed travel restrictions.
The Council also resolved to hold a Special PASO Council Meeting later this year and invite all Pacific Island Forum States in the lead up to a re-scheduled RAMM.
“The RAMM is viewed as a key enabler of connectivity and a pathway to raising the profile of aviation safety and security in the region with Leaders, noting the importance that safe and secure air travel brings to all aspects of life in The Blue Pacific. The focus of the RAMM is likely to expand to matters around COVID-19 aviation response and recovery,” said new PASO Chairperson, Mr. Viali.
“The full impacts of COVID-19 on the aviation industry in the Pacific region are yet to be fully felt, and the recovery is likely to be slow and challenging, even once global and regional border restrictions are relaxed.
“There is a strong need for the region to solve these aviation challenges together and support each other through these hard times.
“Collectively, we need to address how to strengthen aviation safety oversight, sustainable air transport, and mechanisms to connect our region and provide us with a strong platform for economic and social recovery,” said Mr. Viali.
The PASO Council recognised the critical continued financial support from the New Zealand government to strengthen PASO and its Members with $2.2million (NZD) in April. Since 2017, the New Zealand Government have provided a total of $4.9m NZD to PASO.
“The evolving COVID-19 situation has deeply affected regional aviation and transport and continues to have a significant impact on PASO’s activities and operations. PASO is not immune to the economic impact of this pandemic,” said PASO’s General Manager, Mr. Andrew Valentine.
“This funding is valuable and beneficial as it supports PASO’s work with our Members to enhance regulatory aviation safety and security as well as deliver targeted assistance to some of our Members. A key enabler of economic growth across the Pacific is generated from aviation and having strong regulation is a vital component for this to occur,” concluded Mr. Valentine.