In the aftermath of war, with many nations struggling to rebuild their shattered economies, it is easy to understand why protectionist elements were incorporated into the drafting of the Chicago Convention. The treaty determined that no scheduled international air service may be operated over or into the territory of a contracting state without their express permission.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plays an important role today in that space to develop a series of traffic rights, known asfreedoms of the air. These freedoms continue to form the basis of rights exchanged in air services negotiations today.
Vanuatu needs to be congratulated for its great achievement to conclude its ASA with the Government of United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a timely manner. It is timely because of the emerging national development infrastructures, which are geared to boost tourism industry, integration with global economies, and increase ni-Vanuatu participation in economic activities and creation of employment opportunities.
The Vanuatu Airport Infrastructure Project (VAIP) was initiated straight after this current government was formed in February 2016. This was one of the decisions of the first Council of Ministers’ meeting to upgrade the Bauerfield Airport to Code E airport standards capable of handling long haul services on Boeing 787 or Airbus A330 aircraft. In addition, Vanuatu has just completed its national aviation strategic plan or roadmap which clearly identify future development of our air services into other parts of Vanuatu and abroad.
The Air Service Agreement with UAE is one of the benefits of our diplomatic relations with the UAE that was established on the 24th of June 2009. The whole objectives, like other bilateral relations, are to promote mutual understanding and friendly relations and cooperation in all political, economic, social, humanitarian, cultural and scientific spheres. As part of this commitment, in February 2015, HE. Kalfau Kaloris, High Commissioner of the Vanuatu in Canberra presented his credentials to the Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE and same time Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum making him the first Ambassador of Vanuatu to the United Arab Emirates with residence in Canberra.
While relations between the two countries is fairly recent, both countries have enjoyed cordial exchanges in the areas of social, economic, and political development cooperation. On the social development, in the recent years we have witnessed several exchange visits of the leaders and officials of both countries as part of strengthening relationship between the two countries. This includes the visit of the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 2010. On Vanuatu side, beginning of 2014 we have witnessed visits of our Hon. Ministers from key Ministries such as Ministry of Finance, Trade, Climate Change, and more recently the visit of Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Bob Loughman, and Hon. Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas.
On the development front, UAE assisted Vanuatu with the funding of approximately USD 5 million dollars grant in 2014 towards a 767kW solar grid connected system which currently provides electricity to the National Parliament building and the Ministry of Climate Change building. The Government of UAE through IRENA also provided numerous regional capacity building trainings and workshops related to renewable energy of which Vanuatu is one of its beneficiaries. The bilateral development cooperation arrangement covers also other areas such as scholarships, education, and cooperation between municipals and major cities in UAE. In 2017, Vanuatu sent its first student to undertake aviation training in the school of aviation at the Emirates Aviation University. Prime Minister Salwai thanked the government of UAE and reaffirmed its government’s commitment to work together with the UAE government to explore how this program can be continued to build Vanuatu’s national capacity in the aviation sector. Immediately after TC PAM in 2015 the UAE provided US$700,000 in cash to support the Government’s recovery programs.
On the political front we have witnessed progressive developments since the establishment of diplomatic relations. The Government of UAE acknowledged Vanuatu support to the UAE to host IRENA Headquarters in Abu Dhabi, and also the support it had received from Vanuatu for Dubai to host the World Expo 2020. The UAE Government also expressed its appreciation to the Prime Minister for its support for UAE admission as Associate Member of La Francophonie at the recent Summit in Armenia.
In response, Prime Minister Salwai noted that this strategic partnership has begun to flourish and with the foundations already laid has indeed enormous potential to grow into the future. Also, on the margins of UNGA in New York in 2017, Vanuatu signed a visa waiver agreement between the UAE and Vanuatu. This visa agreement is a reciprocal arrangement that allows Ni-Vanuatu diplomatic and official passport holders to enter the country for a specific number of days. Negotiations on including ordinary passports into this arrangement that would further enhance trade, investment, tourism and other commercial programs.
Furthermore, glancing through the records of UAE aviation industry, the UAE's aviation sector is forging ahead with a steady growth, benefitting from a wide range of expertise and achievements in providing advanced international airport solutions that have boosted the stature of the UAE's national carriers- two of which are world renowned – Emirates and ETIHAD.
From an early stage, the UAE government has realised the importance of the aviation sector to the country's overall future sustainable development that has seen the construction of international airports, the establishment of leading international aviation companies, and the investments of billions of dollars in its infrastructure.
The Dubai International Airport now leads globally in terms of the number of international travelers while Abu Dhabi International Airport is the fastest growing in terms of the same statistics.
The fleet of the four national air carriers - Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Air Arabia and Flydubai - rose in size to 512 aircraft at the end of 2017, and the number of travelers going through the country's airports increased to over 126.5 million in the same year.
The UAE's national carriers are continuing their expansion to various foreign markets while benefitting from air transport agreements and Memorandums of Understandings signed by the General Civil Aviation Authority of the UAE with other countries and increasing their number of flights to many existing destinations. The national carriers also added 13 new destinations to their international routes in 2017, reaching a combined total of 444 international destinations from various airports around the country.
Indeed, the UAE is one of the first countries to focus on international research and innovation in the aviation sector, with the aim of providing safer and more environmentally friendly air operations. There is a lot that Vanuatu can benefit from this humble beginning of reaching an understanding of close working relations between the two countries in the areas of the aviation sector.
The signing ceremony on Thursday 1 November with His Excellency Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority is another defining chapter in bilateral relations with the UAE. This has created an important land mark of relationships between the two countries in that it has opened a window of opportunity for the respective Governments to continue dialogue on how this relationship can become a building bridge for increasing investment, building capacity, and sharing experiences in digital transformation and innovation.
Prime Minister SALWAI is presently attending the International Telecommunication Union’s 18th Plenipotentiary Conference in Dubai and has capitalized on that opportunity to advance bilateral relations with the United Arab Emirates. The Prime Minister is being accompanied by the Acting Director General Mr. Gregoire Nimbtik, Vanuatu’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Mr. Kaloris, the Government’s Chief Information Officer Mr. Gerard Metsan and his Deputy Mr. John Jack.