Civil aviation mourns the passing of Assad Kotaite, ICAO leader, diplomat and visionary
Mon 3 Mar 2014 – Universally recognised as one of the most prominent and respected figures in the world of civil aviation, Dr Assad Kotaite (right), Council President Emeritus of ICAO, died on 27 February at the age of 89. A respected leader and visionary who devoted his life to international civil aviation throughout the world, Dr Kotaite was deeply instrumental in promoting the critical role of air transport as a driver of economic, social and cultural development worldwide, writes Chris Lyle.
Born in Lebanon in 1924, Dr Kotaite obtained his degree in law from the French University of Beirut, as well as a doctorate from the University of Paris. His prestigious career with ICAO began in 1953 when he was appointed to the Organization’s Legal Committee, a position he held until 1970. Concurrently, from 1956 to 1970, he was the Representative of Lebanon on the Council of ICAO, interrupted for two years when he served the Directorate General of Transport of Lebanon. In 1970, he was appointed Secretary General of ICAO and then elected President of the Council for eleven successive mandates – from 1976 until his retirement 30 years later in 2006. His tenure is the longest among senior executives in the history of the United Nations system.
A consummate diplomat, Dr Kotaite was widely recognised as a champion of cooperation and dialogue among ICAO’s Member States and within the world aviation community. He also gained a well-earned reputation as a master conciliator and consensus-builder, steering global aviation through an increasingly complex, competitive and politically challenging regulatory environment.
His environmental involvement included overseeing the development of the Committee on Aircraft Noise, which eventually became the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection, and the associated introduction of environmental standards by ICAO: Annex 16, Volume 1 Aircraft noise and then Volume 2 Aircraft engine emissions. His diplomatic skills and leadership were critical in the development of a global agreement on the phase-out of noisier Chapter 2 aircraft, a major achievement involving an Extraordinary Session of the ICAO Assembly in 1990. He subsequently helped resolve a dispute procedure on hushkits, devices to make aircraft meet, marginally, the quieter Chapter 3 standards, although not initially accepted by the EU.
The recipient of numerous honours and awards during his long tenure, detailed in his My Memoirs (ICAO, 2013), in September of last year Dr Kotaite received the Edward Warner Award, bestowed by the ICAO Council and the highest honour in the world of civil aviation. In 2003 he received from IATA its first Global Aviation Leadership Award.
This writer had the privilege of working and travelling with Dr Kotaite on a number of high-level policy issues. His grasp of key principles and his unfailing appreciation and acknowledgement of every point of view, from the largest to the smallest players in politics and aviation, were fundamental to his achievements. I recall his unfailing courtesy at all levels, whether the president of a country, the head of an international agency or aviation body, the staff in the lounge in an airport or the driver of the car sent to meet him. He was fascinated by the moving maps on aircraft in the context of his work (I recall “we are now almost exactly where KAL 007 was shot down”).
He loved symbolism, a classic being his reciprocity to a dinner hosted by the late Loyola de Palacio, then Vice-President of the European Commission, to discuss the hushkit issue in the garden of the Ritz Carlton in Madrid – the deal was finally agreed a few months later at a dinner hosted by Dr Kotaite for Loyola de Palacio in the garden of the Ritz Carlton in Montreal.
He both knew how and where to take his advice and was a mentor to so many of us. We have lost a giant of aviation.