We talk to Captain Ahmed Satti Bajouri (AS), Director General of the Sudan Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) about Sudan’s pride in aviation
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LE: We have observed how the SCAA has made significant progress in the area of aviation safety; however, this is not well-known in the outside world and there is a possible misperception prevailing. Would you agree?
AS: In fact, I feel that the global aviation community is aware of Sudan’s progress as it has been officially declared in many meetings, such as the Assembly of September 2013. Nevertheless, outside the aviation community, the wider truth about Sudan is not known to the general public as a lot of international media dedicates itself to sensationalizing stories irrespective of the facts. Sudan is a developing State and has been a victim of such misrepresentation over an extended period. It is very rare to hear about positive things that are happening in the country; the peaceful cohabitation of its people, and the positive opportunities that the State has put in place to attract international investment.
In the aviation sector, we are playing a major part in presenting the facts that exist in our country, not only through meeting our obligations for establishing a safe, secure and efficient civil aviation system but also by actively participating in international and regional activities.
As is confirmed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and its Middle Eastern and African offices, Sudan, over the last four years, has enhanced its safety oversight capabilities and the result is considered one of the most effective systems in Africa. We are one of the very few African and Middle East States that is at stage three of implementing its State Safety Programme (SSP) and service providers’ Safety Management System (SMS).
We are currently working with the European Commission to enable some of our air operators to fly to Europe. To this end, the EC will visit Sudan towards the end of this year
The success of the civil aviation sector in Sudan has not happened in a vacuum. In fact, the success of the aviation sector is a direct reflection of the positive environment created by the State, which itself grew out of peace and policies focusing on growth, human capabilities and resources development.
Our civil aviation system has suffered tremendously from the unfair embargo that has been placed on our country, even though we have fully met the original reasons that were in the first place, rightly or wrongly, used to put us under embargo. For example, we have fully implemented the internationally negotiated peace agreements respecting South Sudan and enabled South Sudan to be an independent State and member of the United Nations and its various organs.
Of course, the embargo seriously undermines our efforts to enhance aviation safety and efficiency in Sudan although, that said, we have managed to develop, establish and maintain a safety oversight system considered to be one of the best in Africa.
The SCAA is committed to continuing on its road towards implementing an effective, efficient and sustainable safety oversight system that fully complies with international standards and recommended practices, as well as proven international best practices. We believe in the balance of safety and production goals, as advocated by the ICAO. This is confirmed through the global international civil aviation body that has audited the Sudan civil aviation authority on several occasions since 2011 and continues to send monitoring missions at given intervals. We are currently working with the European Commission to enable some of our air operators to fly to Europe. To this end, European Commission representatives who have participated in the audit of the Sudan Civil Aviation as part of the ICAO audit team, are expected to visit Sudan towards the end of this year to audit the capabilities of selected air operators and their readiness to operate to European cities.
However, regardless of our efforts and good will, the embargo does have a negative impact and hinders us from achieving our goals. For example, it is next to impossible to purchase modern aircraft or get parts as long as the embargo is enforced. The irony is that the embargo on aviation equipment is an issue of global aviation safety and impacts the safety and security of international aircraft operations.
LE: Sudan could be an aviation hub thanks to its geographical position. How important is it that the SCAA positions the Sudanese aviation in this way, and lets people know that you are “open for business”?
AS: Yes, Sudanese air space lies in the center of Africa. In addition, Sudan has made significant investment in up-to-date equipment for its air navigation services and surveillance system. This has enabled us to have full coverage of the Khartoum FIR which also includes the air space over South Sudan with full radar and ADA communication. The air traffic volume over the FIR has increased considerably following the closure of both Yemeni airspace, FIR and Libyan airspace. As a result, Sudan is hosting all this traffic, and providing a safe, effective and efficient service that has earned positive assessments and reports from the ICAO’s regional offices. We are currently restructuring the airspace, following fruitful discussions with air operators using our airspace and changes will be implemented imminently. These are all reliable indicators that we are well-placed to accept outside investment. Sudan is a very large country and the Khartoum FIR is the largest airspace managed by a single State, but internally we have a very small aviation service provision and that makes for an attractive investment opportunity.
LE: Because of Sudan’s landmass, investors will turn to the availability of aviation first. What is your message to investors about specific projects or partnership opportunities?
AS: As mentioned, Sudan is a very large country, and there are many projects underway in remote mountainous areas. Reaching these by road or any other type of surface transport is currently not an option due to the lack of infrastructure. Therefore, investment in the aviation sector is crucial, to connect those remote areas where investment projects are located, to the economic centres of the country, which are mainly Khartoum and Port Sudan. Because of the lack of adequate surface infrastructure, aviation is the most viable and economic means of transport for ensuring the continuous exchange of trade in the country. To put it in perspective, crossing Sudanese airspace, east to west or north to south, would be like crossing all the States in the European Union. Aviation here has the potential to play a major role in moving people and merchandise effectively and profitably.
I estimate that Sudan can easily support three or four more major airlines operating nationally and internationally and they don’t have to be fully owned by Sudanese nationals. The government’s current investment policy is 51-49%, which allows foreign shareholders to own a major part of the business. Of course we recognize that there will be a major interest from investors once the embargo is lifted and we hope, and have reason to believe, that this won’t be before too long. But if investors position themselves now, they will have priority once the embargo is eased. In anticipation, Sudan is currently constructing a major airport in Khartoum, which is going to have several parallel runways and is expected to be operational from 2017. This should also ease the concerns of investors with respect to airport infrastructure.
In sum, we would like to reflect the reality of Sudan and somehow contribute to erasing negative perceptions. Look at the reality: safety, security and communication surveillance is effectively implemented in Sudan to the highest degree required by international convention.
LE: What would be your take-home message to investors whose curiosity has been piqued about investing in Sudan, and in particular about partnering with the Sudan Civil Aviation Authority?
AS: My loudest message would highlight that Sudan presents a great opportunity to invest in the future of aviation in a country that has all the pointers of becoming the centre of aviation activities in the region. Also, it is important to mention that we are fully convinced that Sudan has matured and is pursuing an investor-friendly policy for its civil aviation sector. Let’s not forget the geopolitical position of the country as a bridge between the Middle East and Western Africa, and Europe and South Africa; nor its potential to serve as a bridge between the Middle East and the Western hemisphere. For those who are interested in investing in aviation in Africa, we are placed in a favorable position and would welcome a conversation.