The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia, previously referred to as the Department of Civil Aviation, is a government agency that was formed under the Ministry of Transport Malaysia in 1969. CAAM’s main role is to contribute to the development of Malaysia’s civil aviation technical sector and it is mandated to comply with ICAO’s standards so as to keep aviation safe, secure and efficient. It regulates, facilitates and promotes the nation’s aviation/aerospace industry and ensures that the national and international obligations of Malaysia in matters relating to civil aviation are carried out.  Our Bangkok Office recently interviewed Captain Chester Voo Chee Soon, who is the CEO and Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia. Excerpts from this interview are shared below. 

Q: COVID-19 decimated international air travel and disrupted the people-to-people exchanges that brought our world closer together. We are now starting to turn a corner.  As we chart our path towards an endemic phase, what are the possible roles for CAAs to support and facilitate the re-opening of borders and revival of air travel?

A: Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs) around the world have an important role in facilitating and guiding the aviation industry in complying with rules and regulations as the highly regulated industry rushes to reintroduce capacity. CAAs should deploy manpower to increase active surveillance and safety oversight while diligently maintaining our presence to guide the industry through effective and consistent communication.

Effective and transparent communication between regulators and the industry is crucial to ensuring the safety and security of the aviation industry remains the top priority – this will subsequently build public confidence. CAAs must also be prominent and communicative with the public by providing updates on the latest in terms of crew competency, aircraft readiness, safety and airworthiness of aircraft, route stability, and the operator’s actual capabilities. Therefore, CAAs should take a leading and mentorship role in this matter by being communicative to build both operator and public confidence.

Q: We spent the past two years trying to convince everyone that it is safe to fly during a pandemic.  As borders reopen, COVID19 curbs relaxed and travel resumes and things are springing back with such intensity that it has resulted in chaotic scenes at airports across the world.  Some airports seem overwhelmed and the aviation industry doesn’t have nearly enough people to run operations smoothly. How do we address this unprecedented labour crunch, made worse by the pandemic-induced layoffs of workers, from pilots to cabin crew and ground-handling staff?

A: As each state and airlines have different capabilities, this will be handled in various ways. What ICAO can do to guide and streamline the industry is by publishing a paper similar to how ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) ‘Take-Off’ guidance was introduced. However, this time, the paper would include a comprehensive roadmap for guiding the industry restart. Meaning, this can be approached as a comprehensive method that includes a proposed inspection checklist for return-to-service of aircraft and crew, timelines for new recruitment, and the retraining of operational staff. Even the reintroduction of routes should be included so that we may attempt to restart in the most orderly manner. Consider this, more haste less speed. Yes, the frenzy has started, but remember that it is always better to have our commercial aircraft crewed and managed by people who are truly ready, confident, and competent.

An accident now will only erode public confidence in one of the world’s safest modes of transport. Restart, reintroduce routes and capacity and rebuild in a clear and concise manner based on a clear road map that must include crew and aircraft logical induction timeframe. Do things quickly and efficiently but DO NOT RUSH. We must pay close attention to detail and ICAO can play an active part in this.

Q: Did we learn and gain a lot of experiences in dealing with COVID-19 that will help enable us to handle a similar situation in the future more effectively if it will happen again?  What are the issues that you would like to see addressed at the 41st ICAO Assembly?

A: Yes, we certainly learned a lot. Learning is one thing but honestly, we now need to translate these learnings into an ability to implement and execute. The most important thing learned in my opinion is the ability to be resilient and adaptable to change during adversity. Changes that have happened and the way we have adapted, for example, the ability to use online video conferences, and the acceptance of acceptable means of compliance must continue to ensure that we digitalize as we move on to formalize this.

Another main item is to ensure effective and consistent communication and accept different methods of surveillance and compliance inspections as long as they conform to ICAO standards. This reduces duplications and moves things more efficiently and effectively. We are stronger together and we can leverage each other’s strengths and abilities. One thing I would like to see during the 41st General Assembly is Nations coming together and offering solutions without restating the problems and sufferings. The adversity brought by the pandemic has been terrible, but let’s move on from this.

Imagine if each ICAO contracting State offered just one proposed solution, we would have 193 proposals and if we were to take 20% of this and have deep discussions on it, we would have 38 solutions. Imagine if today, we implemented half of these, there would be 19 immediate solutions that we could all adopt for better flight safety for ALL in the aviation industry. I urge strong communication and collaboration to ensure flight safety across the world without compromise. Together we are strong.

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