The Airline Business Award was presented to Dr Assad Kotaite, ICAO

Few organisations touch, shape, and define world aviation as ubiquitously as ICAO - the International Civil Aviation Organization - and few individuals touch, shape, and define an organisation as ubiquitously as the genial diplomat who has headed this 189-state United Nations affiliate for more than 30 years: Dr Assad Kotaite.

Through a career spanning more than 55 years, he has sought to maintain a spirit of co-operation and understanding within the aviation community. Early in his career, he represented his native country of Lebanon on ICAO's Council and sat on several of the organisation's committees.

From 1970-76, Dr Kotaite was secretary general of ICAO, before becoming president of the ICAO Council and leading it single-handedly. Re-elected repeatedly since then by unanimous vote, he has been the visible presence of this global body, guiding its work in so many aspects of aviation, from the language pilots and air traffic controllers share for communication, to the phrases and terminology they use, to the documentation they refer to for ensuring safe flight.

ICAO has been the chief influence on commercial airline safety at developing nations as it pushes for standardised practices and procedures globally, from the North to the South Pole. In fact, agreement among several nations brokered by Dr Kotaite in 2000-01 allowed more regular Polar routes to be flown, saving on both fuel and flight times. ICAO has also taken the lead on aviation security and Dr Kotaite observes that these are intimately linked: "A flight is not safe if it's not secure, and it's not secure if it is not safe." ICAO security audits have become as much of a world standard as its safety audits.

Such developments are a great leap forward from the early days of ICAO, which was created under the 1944 Chicago Convention on international aviation. That pact, Dr Kotaite recalls, specified the freedoms of the air and stressed the need for standard safety practices, but, he notes, there was no mention of security or of the environment. It was, he recalls, a different world. "Everything was accomplished by bilateral service agreements that detailed and specified every aspect of the service, from the type of aircraft to frequencies and capacity." Since then, the privatisation of airlines, of air traffic service providers and of airports have, along with international liberalisation, changed the world. This has made all the more necessary the values that are central to Dr Kotaite's approach of "understanding, co-operation, and friendship. In aviation nothing can be achieved without co-operation, so the basis of my policies has always been to bring consensus among different states on issues of common concern."

These have led to some remarkable diplomatic successes in breakthroughs on over-flight and airspace agreements between such unlikely partners as North and South Korea, or Cuba and the USA. In each of these, it is Dr Kotaite's personal involvement and personal embodiment of the values of friendship and co-operation that has been the driving mechanism of change and agreement.

Source: Airline Business