Opening Address by Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Transport and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations, at the Asia-Pacific Summit for Aviation Safety

22 Mar 2023Speeches

Dr Hassan Shahidi,
President and CEO, Flight Safety Foundation,

Mr Han Kok Juan,
Director-General, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore,

Distinguished Guests,

Friends and colleagues from the aviation community, 

1.     Good morning. Let me start by saying I am delighted to join all of you at the inaugural Asia-Pacific Summit for Aviation Safety. I am especially pleased that so many of you have made the time and effort to be here with us. Let me also extend a warm welcome to our overseas guests.

2.     We are privileged to be able to develop and co-organise this region-wide summit on aviation safety with the Flight Safety Foundation. 

3.     This inaugural summit is themed quite aptly because it emphasises – “Rethinking Safety and Strengthening Aviation” – both relevant for a post-COVID era for aviation. As we look towards the post-COVID air travel recovery and its growth in the coming decades, it is timely that aviation stakeholders from across the Asia-Pacific region gather in person and share best practices in upholding and uplifting aviation safety.

Growth in the Asia-Pacific

4.     According to a 2020 report by the Air Transport Action Group, pre-COVID, aviation supported over 45 million jobs and more than 3% of economic activity in the Asia-Pacific region, powering our trade links and facilitating connections between our peoples and markets. In 2019, eight of the top 10 busiest international flight routes were between points in the Asia-Pacific. 

5.     The impact of COVID-19 has been severe, but we are now thankful to have turned the corner. Brighter skies lie ahead. 

6.     Within the Asia-Pacific, air travel has recovered progressively. In Singapore, our weekly passenger traffic has recovered to around 80% of pre-COVID levels. Based on the current trajectory, passenger traffic at Changi Airport should return to pre-COVID levels by next year, possibly sooner.

7.     Over the longer term, the International Air Transport Association anticipates that the Asia-Pacific will be the fastest-growing region for air travel over the next two decades. Passenger journeys by air are expected to be more than double, driven by growing populations and a rising middle class. So even as we focus on our immediate recovery from COVID, building back capacity, it is important that we cast our eyes further ahead and plan for the anticipated growth for the future. 

Safety as a top priority

8.     With the skies above us set to be busier than ever before, aviation safety must be our top and undisputed priority. 

9.     While aviation has become safer over the years, brought about by innovations in technology and processes, we cannot take this for granted.

10.    As we are all well aware, COVID-19 has introduced significant challenges for aviation safety. With the resumption of travel after an extended hiatus, every state must ensure that their aircraft are safe to fly, and that the competencies of their air and ground crew remain intact. At the same time, airlines face pressure to trim costs and repair balance sheets. 

11.    In other parts of the world that re-opened ahead of the Asia-Pacific, we have also seen some signs of strain, as airports and airlines try their best to scale up their infrastructural and operational capacity quickly, to meet the rising demand for air travel. The Asia-Pacific region will face similar stresses, if not already. 

12.    Safety must be top-of-mind as air travel volumes grow. Our efforts to recover from the pandemic will come to nought if public confidence in the safety of aviation is undermined. As regulators, operators and stakeholders, it is our responsibility, and in our collective interest, to remain vigilant and take every care to uphold high standards of aviation safety. Doing so will not only help secure recovery, but also bolster prospects for long-term growth. 

Setting a strong foundation for safety

13.    I believe three key elements will set a strong foundation for aviation safety in the region and beyond: building resilience, growing capabilities, and fostering collaboration. 

Building resilience

14.    First, we need to build resilience in our aviation safety regime at all levels. 

15.    States and aviation stakeholders have worked together over the years to put in place safeguards for the sector, including robust safety systems, a positive safety culture, and effective safety leadership. As we seek to address the challenges facing the aviation sector today and into the future, we will need to strengthen these safeguards, so that we have greater capacity to handle disruptions and withstand shocks.  

16.    At the core, we need to stress-test our safety systems regularly to be assured that they can meet the mounting demands, as we ramp up airport and flight operations in the region. We also need to proactively update our procedures and processes, to be able to detect emerging risks and take timely mitigating actions.

17.    Our safety systems must be underpinned by a positive safety culture that motivates our aviation workers to take responsibility for upholding standards and improving processes. Every worker must instinctively treat safety as a top priority. They must be given the resources and time to work safely, and be empowered to speak up on safety concerns. 

18.    The tone and drive for all this must be set by effective safety leadership. It starts at the top. Amidst multiple, competing pressures, aviation leaders must give foremost attention to safety, and actively dedicate resources to maintain, reinforce and improve our safety systems and culture.

19.    Our efforts to strengthen our safety systems, culture, and leadership can be augmented by our investments for the future. In this regard, one area we can focus on is improving the safety and resilience of air traffic management (ATM). 

20.    Air traffic flows are predominantly cross-boundary. In a dense and complex air traffic network, any disruption may cause a ripple effect that could increase safety risks for all aviation users. So, it is important that our air navigation service providers (ANSPs) develop comprehensive plans and cooperative arrangements to handle contingency scenarios safely and effectively. 

21.    But it is not enough to address contingencies after the fact. We should invest upfront in new technology to improve Air Traffic Management, which will benefit aviation not only during contingencies, but also in normal operations. Improving digital connectivity and modernising the information infrastructure for Air Traffic Management, ANSPs, and other stakeholders, can create an integrated ATM network that allows neighbouring ANSPs to step in quickly to provide air traffic services when there are contingencies. This would also enable more seamless and sustainable air traffic flows, and increase capacity to safely support air traffic growth within and beyond the region.

Growing capabilities

22.    This brings me to my second point on growing capabilities. Riding on the post-pandemic recovery, we have an opportunity to build back better and invest in our aviation workforce.  

23.    In Singapore, we are deeply committed to building up safety capabilities across the aviation sector. To this end, we published our first National Aviation Safety Plan last year. It sets out Singapore’s priorities to keep aviation safe, and establishes over 50 action steps including capability-building initiatives with industry partners, to enhance operational safety, policies and rules, safety management, as well as data analysis and digitalisation.

24.    The Singapore Aviation Academy is also dedicated to providing safety-related training to both the local and the international aviation community. We welcome aviation professionals from the region to participate in our courses and tap on our training support. Let us level up our safety capabilities together. 

Enhancing collaboration

25.    Last, but by no means the least, ensuring aviation safety is and must be a collaborative effort. 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. 

26.    In this regard, I am pleased to share with you and announce the establishment of the Asia Pacific Centre for Aviation Safety (AP-CAS) in Singapore by the Flight Safety Foundation. The Centre will serve as a hub for thought leadership in aviation safety. It will also contribute to the sharing of insights and recommendations to increase safety awareness and encourage regional collaboration.  

27.    The AP-CAS will work on three key projects this year. First, the Centre will pull together safety data to identify risk areas specific to the Asia-Pacific region, and help develop targeted solutions. Second, it will establish and promote the capabilities needed to maintain effective safety leadership. Third, it will examine and promulgate best practices on pilot training. More projects will be added to the Centre’s work programme in consultation with regulators and industry in the region.  

28.    We in Singapore are honoured to work with the Flight Safety Foundation, and to contribute to the launch of the Centre. We look forward to working with the Centre, and doing our part as a regional aviation hub to strengthen regional collaboration on aviation safety. 


29.    The aviation sector, I think we can all agree, in the Asia-Pacific is at a pivotal moment. We have survived the turbulence of COVID-19, and the skies ahead are bright with opportunities. Our challenge is to ensure that we navigate this transition well and remain prepared for new and unexpected challenges even as we build capabilities for the long term. 

30.    The presence of more than 400 aviation leaders and experts from the region and beyond at this Summit today sends a strong signal of our resolve. It reflects our collective commitment to aviation safety, and our shared confidence in securing the future of safe aviation in the Asia-Pacific.  

31.    To that end, I trust that this conference will, over the next three days, generate lively conversation and lasting partnerships. I wish all of you a very productive summit and an enjoyable stay in Singapore.

32.    Thank you.

Photos from the event are available in the link below.
Please credit Ministry of Transport, Singapore.


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