SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): A regional centre will be established in Singapore to study issues related to aviation safety in the Asia-Pacific, including how best to recruit and train pilots to meet a rising demand for competent air crew.
For a start, the new Asia-Pacific Centre for Aviation Safety will pull together data to identify region-specific risks, develop targeted solutions, and look into the capabilities that are needed to maintain effective safety leadership.
This comes at a pivotal moment in the region’s aviation recovery, with the skies set to be busier than ever before, said Transport Minister S. Iswaran, who announced the centre’s launch on Wednesday (March 22) at the inaugural Asia-Pacific Summit for Aviation Safety, held at Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
“Aviation safety must be our top and undisputed priority,” Iswaran said, noting that this will not only help to secure the current recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic but also bolster prospects for long-term growth.
“Our efforts to recover from the pandemic will come to nought if public confidence in the safety of aviation is undermined.
“While aviation has become safer over the years, brought about by innovations in technology and improvements in processes, we cannot take this for granted.”
The new centre will be set up by the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), a non-profit organisation based in the United States. It will give thought leadership, share recommendations with regulators and the industry, and encourage collaboration.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will provide funding to support the centre’s initial set-up and its activities for the first five years.
Mitchell Fox, who has nearly three decades of experience at the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a specialised agency of the United Nations, will move to Singapore to head the new centre as its first director.
Dr Hassan Shahidi, president and chief executive of FSF, said the new centre will look to work with universities in Singapore once it is up and running. A search is under way to find a suitable location for it.
On Tuesday, CAAS director-general Han Kok Juan warned of the mounting stresses that airports and airlines face as air travel returns, and the potential impact this will have on safety.
The Asia-Pacific is still lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of passenger traffic recovery, but it is expected to be the fastest-growing region for air travel over the next two decades.
In Singapore, efforts made to strengthen the safety regime, culture and leadership allowed operations to be ramped up significantly in 2022 without any mishaps, Han said.
He noted how air traffic volumes in the Republic moved from 12 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels in January 2022 to about 80 per cent now.
According to the CAAS, pilots for airlines based in Singapore flew about 75 hours a month as at the first week of March 2023, up from five hours a month at the lowest point during the pandemic in 2020.
The number of Singapore-registered aircraft in operation jumped to 197 from 88 during this time, and the number of foreign airlines flying to Singapore more than doubled to 95 from 39 over the same period.
CAAS said it will step up its safety efforts further, including rolling out schemes to support the mental health of pilots and air traffic controllers. This is an issue that has come into sharper focus because of the stress caused by the pandemic.
Safety regulations will be modernised to provide for a “more outcome-based approach”, CAAS added, but it did not provide more details on this.
Iswaran on Wednesday said that safeguards for the aviation sector in the region also need to be strengthened so that there is greater capacity to handle disruptions and withstand shocks.
Safety systems need to be stress-tested regularly, and processes and procedures need to be proactively updated to detect and quickly mitigate emerging risks, he added.
Another area that the region can focus on is improving the safety and resilience of air traffic management by developing comprehensive contingency plans and cooperative arrangements. This is because any disruptions can cause a ripple effect that could increase safety risks for all aviation users, Iswaran said.
The minister also urged the region to invest in new technology that creates an integrated air traffic management network so neighbouring air navigation service providers can quickly step in to provide air traffic services when there is a need for it.
It was reported previously that CAAS has been laying the groundwork to roll out a new air traffic management system in Singapore in the late 2020s, before the current system reaches the end of its life.
Iswaran said: “Aviation inherently transcends borders. It is therefore critical that we pool our resources and amplify our strengths as one aviation community, to build a safer operating environment in the region.”