Opening remarks at the 75th General Session of the Association of South Pacific Airlines
Delivered by Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dr Filimon Manoni
30 May 2021, Nadi, Fiji.
Heads of Pacific Airlines,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and warm Pacific greetings from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. It is my pleasure to join you all to open the 75th General Session of the Association of South Pacific Airlines on behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr Henry Puna.
The Pacific has always been a community of voyagers! We populated this vast Blue Pacific Continent using our oceans as our medium. In our more recent past, we continue to strengthen our connections across our islands and to the world through our aviation sector, using our skies as the medium.
Let me cast an eye back to when Pacific Island countries were becoming independent. There was a burgeoning sense of optimism and excitement as countries looked to forge their own pathways to build their economies and societies to provide the necessary conditions for strengthened socio-economic development that would raise living standards and provide the opportunities for their people to prosper.
During this time, the Pacific Islands Forum was borne out of the desire of our Pacific Leaders to have the space and opportunity to come together and share their journey as newly independent States and discuss opportunities for cooperation and growth as a collective. Key amongst these considerations was economic development, trade and connectivity, the aviation sector being a key component of that connectivity.
Colleagues, at that time, the majority of Pacific Island Countries did not have the economic power, market demand, skilled support personnel, support aviation infrastructure, or the support services required to undertake national airline services. However, development of infrastructure, human and technological capacity, state and private investments into our aviation sectors, and strategic partnerships has seen the growth and development of our regional aviation industry to where it stands today. Indeed, the journey of our airlines in the region started from small and humble beginnings but through political will and support by successive generations of Pacific Leaders and the cognisance that aviation will provide the returns on investment as a driver of our economic development has continued to sustain aviation services across our region and the benefits our Pacific people have derived from it.
Colleagues, I note that this is the 75th General Session of the Association of South Pacific Airlines, and I am tinged with pride to see the airlines represented here today as well as the corporate sponsorship ASPA has been able to draw for this event. A testament to the opportunities that our aviation sector in the Pacific presents, not only for us, but for external partners as well.
The aviation industry in our region has been through many challenges. Most recently that of the COVID-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding, the closure of borders, several of our national airlines were still able to contribute to the movement of critical medical and humanitarian supplies and technical expertise, through the Forums’ Pacific Humanitarian Pathway for COVID-19 (PHP-C) and the UN’s Pacific Humanitarian Air Services (PHAS), to assist our people respond to and recover from the pandemic.
As we recover from the pandemic and look to regain our foothold on the pathway to economic prosperity, the aviation sector will play a central role. As our economies move back to positive growth, our tourism sectors are bouncing back, and disrupted supply chains are now reconnected. Our people are on the move again, and our partners and friends are coming back. However, as the pandemic has taught us, we must ask ourselves how can we cushion the impacts of such black swan events on the aviation sector? How can we make the sector more resilient and agile to respond to future crises? Rest assured, its not a question of if – it’s more a question of when. We must be prepared!
Colleagues, in July 2022, our Pacific Leaders endorsed the 2050 Strategy. The Strategy presents our long-term ambitions for our region and our collective aspirations…that “for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, wherein all our Pacific people will lead free, healthy, and productive lives…..”
The Strategy sets out our Leaders’ vision and strategy for working together to deepen Pacific regionalism and our collective resilience, over the next 3 decades.
In order to achieve this vision, we realise that we must have an agile, responsive and scalable regional aviation sector that is commercially driven but socially responsible given our unique context; and the strategic advantages afforded by the aviation industry for a region that spans nearly 20 percent of the globes surface! Our people rely on the aviation sector to connect us to each other and to the world! Therefore, we will need your cooperation and genuine partnership to deliver this vision for our current and future generations.
Colleagues, the 2050 Strategy provides an opportunity for all our partners, including the aviation industry, to work with us on key policy pathways. These pathways include Political, Economic, People, Resources, Technology and Connectivity. ASPA can certainly contribute to the connectivity pathway, if not all of the pathways.
In saying this, we are not starting from scratch. We are building on decades of hard work and experience, from the sectoral, to national, to regional to global. As you are well aware, our regional architecture has the Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO), to ensure global safety and compliance standards are met to provide the conditions for airlines and aircrafts to operate. The Forums’ Sub-Committee on Regional Security has specific interactions with the ICAO looking at aviation security standards in tandem with PASO. Several years ago, the Secretariat was progressing work on upper air space management with some of our smaller island States and assisted with the conduct of the Regional Aviation Ministers Meeting.
This being said, we will continue to engage with our aviation sector and ASPA as we continue to sow the seeds to deliver on our Leaders vision for 2050. In this vein, I am indeed pleased to note that your General Secretary Mr. Tohi, is a member of our Multisectoral Expert Working Group process, who are developing the implementation plan for the 2050 Strategy. I urge you all to work with Mr. Tohi to bring your perspectives forward to this important piece of work to be presented to our Leaders when they meet next in the Cook Islands in November this year.
Colleagues, I note that your agenda is a full one, and although we were not able to provide a more detailed presentation on the 2050 Strategy, we can provide copies for you, or you can access a copy through our PIFS website.
Finally, I wish to call on all of you to draw inspiration from our unique and collective strength as the Pacific and look to the shared vision of our Forum Family for 2050 to motivate us all to continue to work side by side to navigate the currents facing the aviation industry and take advantage of the new frontiers we will be presented with in the coming years.
Heads of national airlines, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I wish you well in your deliberations and look forward to your support moving forward!
I thank you all, Vinaka vakalevu!