Since 2010, Somalia’s airspace has been an issue between the successive governments of Somalia and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which currently manages the airspace on behalf of Somalia.
The Somali state has made several unsuccessful attempts to regain the control and management of its airspace. ICAO is reluctant to hand responsibility of the airspace over to Somalia. It seems that ICAO has no confidence in the ability and capability of Somalia to safely manage its own airspace. Outside of the Somali government and ICAO, the Somali citizens are certainly frustrated with the way that foreign parties are managing the country’s airspace and collecting its revenues.
According to Chicago convention, each state has exclusive sovereignty over its airspace, but at the moment Somalia has no control over its airspace! How did it happen?
Prior to the collapse of the Somali Central Government in 1991, the government was effectively and efficiently managed and controlled its airspace and was able to collect overfly charges and revenues from airspace users. However, when the government collapsed, there was no entity to take its place and provide air navigation services.
In 1992, the United Task Force (UNITAF), a foreign forces led by the US, took over control and management of Somali airspace. However, when the UNITAF handed over the mission to the United Nations, the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) established an agreement with the International Civil Aviation Authority Organization (ICAO) in 1993 to provide civil aviation services from a control tower located in Mogadishu.
The decisions regarding the management of Somalia airspace have been derived from the United Nations Security Council Resolutions Numbers 814 and 837 (1993), which mandated UNOSOM to secure all ports and airports for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The UNOSOM operation was concluded in 1995, and the ICAO agreement expired at the end of the peacekeeping mission. However, circumstances in Somalia had not improved, and there was no national authority that could take over and manage the Civil Aviation Authority’s responsibilities. Therefore, another entity had to come in and provide such services.
In May 1996, ICAO launched a new initiative known as the Civil Aviation Caretaker Authority for Somalia (CACAS) to manage the country’s airspace and provide basic aviation services. The CACAS operated from Nairobi to provide air navigation services on behalf of Somalia. CACAS later changed its name to Flight Information Services for Somalia (FISS) when its mandate expired in 2012 following the formation of the Somali Federal Government. To date, FISS, which uses the ICAO mandate, manages Somalia airspace.
Somali politicians have argued that, ICAO has failed to provide major tangible assistance (technically and operationally) to Somalia’s airports. The organisation neglected to establish or assist a functioning civil aviation administration, failed to provide an adequate training programmes for national personnel (capacity building), and was unable to assist in drafting regulations required for the operation and maintenance of civil aviation in Somalia.
The Somali government was and is dissatisfied with the way its airspace has been managed by third parties and has begun to take steps in reclaiming it. The first move to reclaim airspace came from the former Prime Minister of Somalia, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, in 2010. Sharmarke sent a formal request to the United Nations seeking to regain control of Somalia airspace. However, that request was unsuccessful.
In 2011, current President of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, attempted to regain the control of country’s airspace. This attempt was also unsuccessful.
The third attempt to regain control was made in 2013 by Somalia’s former Minister of Information, Posts and Telecommunications, Abdullahi Elmoge Hersi. The minister met ICAO officials in Nairobi and Montreal and announced that Somali federal government would resume control of the country’s airspace by 31st December 2013. However, there has been no change, and FISS continues to manage Somalia`s airspace.
The fourth effort to regain management was made in 2014 by the former Minister of Air and Land Transport, Said Jama Mohamed. Said announced that the Somali federal government had regained the control of its airspace after reaching an agreement with ICAO. The minister added that, the airspace would be managed from Mogadishu. However, this attempt was unsuccessful, and FISS is still in charge of Somalia`s airspace.
In 2017, the current Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, Mohamed Abdullahi Salad, has visited ICAO`s Head Quarter in Montreal and met with Dr. Fang Liu the Secretary General of ICAO and other top officials to discuss the issue of transferring the management of the airspace from FISS to the hands of the Somalia government. Similarly, the Minister has visited Nairobi and met with ICAO officials for the same reason. After long and difficult but fruitful negotiations, meetings, and discussions ICAO agreed that the airspace should be managed and controlled within Somalia.
On 28 December 2017, the President of the Federal government of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has opened new flight information centre inside Mogadishu’s Aden Abdulle International Airport. Officially, on 18th June 2018, Somalia’s airspace control office in Nairobi, which had been operating more than 25 years has been closed and all functions of airspace control are transferred to Mogadishu. This might seems a big achievement worth to celebrate but in reality FISS/ICAO is still responsible for the management of Somalia’s airspace. What has changed is the location of the office; from Nairobi to Mogadishu!
There are three options available to Somali government in terms of airspace. The first option is to leave the situation as it is now. In order to achieve and maintain a safe and efficient flow of aircrafts within Somalia`s airspace, Somalia must let FISS manage the airspace for some time until Somalia is fully ready to takeover. However, this option is not acceptable to Somali officials and citizens, as they believe that, some senior officials at ICAO and FISS regarded the temporary control of Somalia’s airspace as permanent and show little interest in handing responsibility back to Somalia. Somalis argue that there has been no major upgrading of Somalia’s air traffic management facilities or capacity building. However, the temporary centre in Nairobi was constantly upgraded and equipped with the latest technology. The main concern Somalians have is that the revenues generated by Somali airspace are spent on the lavish lifestyle and salaries of UN/ICAO/FISS seniors, and little is left to train Somali aviation officials or repair the country’s ageing airports.
The second option is to delegate and assign the management of the country`s airspace to another third party state or institution. As established by the Chicago convention, each state is entitled to delegate its relevant airspace sovereignty rights to external bodies. To clarify, national sovereignty cannot be delegated, but the provision of air traffic management services can be. This delegation is not an abandonment of the country`s sovereignty, but rather a way of fulfilling the obligations of airspace sovereignty by making the using of the airspace safer for users.
As the delegation of the management of airspace to other states is legitimate, can Somalia delegate its airspace to be managed by countries such as Kenya or Ethiopia? Off course, Somalia is entitled to do so, but due to Somali pride, this option is unacceptable, particularly if delegating to Ethiopia or Kenya, two hostile neighbouring countries.
The final means of regaining control is to pursue and commit to regaining complete control and management of the airspace regardless of how long it might takes. As mentioned before, under the Chicago Convention, each state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory. The control and management of the country’s airspace should be regained and transferred from FISS back to Somalia as soon as possible, but this task is not as simple as it may appear. Why? find out in my next article.