Pierre J. Jeanniot
ASSAD KOTAITE MEMORIAL
Montreal, 27 February, 2015
“Man of Vision” – Address by Pierre J Jeanniot >>
Minister, President of the Council, Secretary General, Distinguished Panelists, ladies and gentlemen.
I was one of the few people – I would venture to say – who felt comfortable to call Dr. Kotaite “Assad, my dear friend Assad”, and he always addressed me as “my friend Pierre”.
This was not an unusual situation but simply illustrative of the most cordial relations which always existed between us – and between ICAO and IATA.
The genesis of this relation goes back to the creation of the two organizations.
As all of us know, it was essentially the same people involved in the creation of ICAO in December 1944 who gave birth to IATA in April 1945.
The two institutions cooperated very closely over the years, recognizing each other’s strengths and achievements.
Indeed one of my predecessors at IATA, Knut Hammarskjold, received the prestigious Edward Warner Award from Dr. Kotaite at the IATA AGM in 198 in New Delhi.
Early in his career, Assad developed a very clear vision of the role that commercial aviation should play in the fulfillment of the ideals promulgated by the United Nations, where multilateralism would play a very central role.
First as the Representative of Lebanon to the UN meetings in New York, Assad had the opportunity to witness the great architects of multilateralism first hand, and quickly understood that by making direct contact at the highest level one could side-step the more formal organizational procedures.
He was impressed by the personal qualities of Dag Hammarskjold, the then U.N. Secretary General , who was devoting himself heart and soul to the pursuit of peace and cooperation around the world.
Assad was also very impressed by the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester B Pearson, who had served as President of the UN General Assembly and who played an important role in diffusing the Suez crisis.
Pearson subsequently set up the UN Peace Keeping Force, winning the Nobel Prize in 1957.
H.J. Symmington, who was President of Trans Canada Airlines from 1941-47 (later renamed Air Canada) alongside the Canadian Minister of Reconstruction, trade, Transport etc., C.D. Howe – often referred to the Minister of everything – were the Canadian delegates to the Chicago Convention which led to the foundation of IATA shortly thereafter.
All were great leaders in multilateralism and conciliation.
As a bright, young and highly educated Representative of Lebanon to the ICAO Council, Assad’s involvement with those architects of multilateralism helped him forge a clear vision of the role that ICAO needed to play – and indeed was to play – in the expansion of civil aviation throughout the world in a peaceful, conciliatory and balanced fashion.
Assad often quoted Miles Kahler, Professor of International Relations at the University of California in San Diego, who defined multilateralism as “the international governance of the many”.
He was too modest to add, that for multilateralism to succeed it needed to be guided by a very persuasive, articulate and informed visionary leader who was able to identify the kinds of compromises, give and take, required to achieve a consensus.
He believed that it is important to build trust and to understand the other point of view.
He believed that people are more inclined to accept and respect the views of those leaders who are known to them rather than the views of those that caused the initial confrontation.
The Chicago Convention did not describe in great detail the role and duties of the President of the Council, but it provided a fairly broad interpretation.
This gave Assad the latitude that he felt was required to play the role of “architect of multilateralism” to which he had always aspired.
As President, he was often called upon to de-escalate conflicts between contracting States and clearly redefine those conflicts.
In some cases, it was necessary to demilitarize them by dis-associating them from any non-aviation matters, thereby redirecting the focus of the Council back to the question of ensuring the safety and efficiency of civil aviation worldwide.
Examples of his astutely brilliant action are numerous, but in my view some of his more notorious were:
- The opening up of the significant air corridors on the Bangkok-Danang-Hong Kong routes across the Indochina peninsula – and everywhere else in the entire Saigon Flight Information Region.
Some delicate negotiations were required to bring the newly-unified Vietnam into the ICAO family, and to demonstrate to the new Vietnamese government that in providing air traffic services they would be able to earn charges from airlines using those routes.
- The many conflicts that have plagued the Middle East region offered Assad Kotaite ample opportunity to play his conciliatory role, as well as promoting his vision of safety and evenly balanced commercial opportunities in aviation expansion.
The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and the subsequent intervention by coalition forces led by the United States placed ICAO in several very delicate situations.
The skills of Dr. Kotaite played a crucial role in resolving a number of issues, particularly in orchestrating the return to Kuwait of the Kuwait Airline fleet.
The fleet had been hijacked by Iraq and subsequently held in Iran, which had hoped to keep those assets as part of an overall settlement of the Iraq/Iran war.
The vision of Assad in promoting the efficient, safe and constructive expansion of civil aviation led him to explore the benefits of satellite-based navigation systems, and to support strongly the development of the concept of FANS – Future Air Navigation Services.
He was quick to recognize the revolutionary potential of GPS and GLONASS to improve air navigation for commercial aircraft, which led to the development of standards for the use of satellite-based navigation.
He was able to deal successfully with the concerns of the Member States that these satellite navigation services offered by the U.S. and Russia independently could be turned off at will by those countries.
The conditions of use by civil aviation negotiated by ICAO provided sufficient guarantees of uninterrupted services.
Had FANS been fully exploited, would we still be looking for Malaysian Airlines MH 370?
Assad was involved already at that time with the territorial disputes over the South China Sea, which had complicated the realignment of Flight Information Regions over the South China Sea.
The Asia-Pacific region was already experiencing the most rapid growth in air traffic of any region worldwide.
As we have noted recently, there are still some lingering issues of jurisdiction over the tiny “Spratly Islands”, despite the very significant progress he was able to achieve in the region.
Resolving the air dispute between Cuba and the American government appeared to be an almost impossible task.
The U.S. government had taken the position that Cuba’s civil aircraft could not overfly the U.S., as they could be used for espionage purposes.
Assad tried very hard to find common ground between the two governments.
The route in question was Havana – Canada (Toronto and Montreal), and after many days of discussion and negotiation he was able to achieve a compromise which enabled Cubana de Aviacion aircraft to overfly American territory on a more efficient route agreed in detail by the U.S.
This saved each airline more than 600 miles on the Toronto-Havana route – and more than 300 nautical miles on the Montreal-Havana route.
Assad’s continuous concern about safety led him to propose, in 1998, the adoption by ICAO of the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program which was designed to allow audits to be carried out by ICAO at ICAO’s initiative with the consent of the audited States.
Although some States were unwilling at the outset to comply with the standards, ICAO was finally able to convince all States to agree to their adoption – and by 1999 all the Member States had rallied.
Under his leadership, ICAO has worked assiduously to ensure `the safe and orderly growth of international civil aviation throughout the world`.
Khalil Gibran, one of Assad`s favourite poets, says in his book ‘The Prophet’:
“If you bake bread without heart, your bread will be bitter.
One has to put one`s heart in everything that one does.”
And Assad always put his heart in every negotiation and conciliation he carried out.
He always – and successfully -recognized the importance, indeed the critical importance of the human element in achieving satisfactory solutions.
His vision lives on, and will continue to guide us as the future unfolds and brings new challenges.
Pierre J Jeanniot, O.C., C.Q.
Director General Emeritus – IATA