Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM)

Since his appointment on June 1, 2020, Datuk Captain Chester Voo has been working tirelessly to help Malaysia regain its Category 1 status and succeeded in doing so recently, much to the pride of the civil aviation industry and Malaysia. Projecting CAAM as a strict but facilitative regulator, he works with a committed team dedicated to help the industry do right things in ensuring a safe aviation ecosystem. With almost 30 years of aviation experience behind him, our humble man, who hails from Sandakan, Sabah but grew up in Tawau also brought with him early lessons in life he learnt. They include to never give up and that everything is possible through sincere efforts. Adopting a positive approach, he has steered CAAM to adapt and embrace change. Adopting a positive approach, he has steered CAAM to adapt and embrace change.

Please share with us CAAM’s transformation journey under the trying and unprecedented times brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic?
The most important thing in CAAM’s transformation is the ability to believe while keeping the same tenacity-cum-stamina to keep moving forward regardless of the difficulties. We should embrace and approach the problems with positive solutions although some solutions are painful as change is never easy. The pandemic gave us a breather as capacity slowed down, thus allowing us to take three steps back to see the picture clearly and fix the root causes of our problems.

We wanted a strong and sustainable organisation. Once we structured that and worked on what we needed to do, we remained discipline in completing each task one at a time. Eventually the issues were fixed, making us more confident and competent. I am grateful to the airlines for trusting me with various management roles in training and operations.

One of your immediate tasks after your appointment was to help Malaysia regain its category 1 status within a year but with the pandemic, it took slightly longer. What were the measures implemented that helped convince the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration to upgrade us?
Malaysia’s recategorisation has been an uplifting moment for the aviation industry following a very difficult period due to the pandemic. Our success in attaining this was a team effort, right from the Ministry of Transport (MOT) to everyone at CAAM, including the task force looking into the 33 findings in 2019.

The reassessment covered 301 protocol questions that required 403 critical element responses. For us, the best and most sustainable way in approaching the audit or assessment was to be fundamentally strong with solid foundations. We went about fixing the root causes and putting into place resilient and robust processes. With the support of everyone and the aviation Industry players, CAAM embarked on a complete change of our documentation that included civil aviation directives. We aligned the directives to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) annexes and then developed both civil aviation and internal guidance materials, process manuals and a comprehensive documentation system within CAAM. As a regulator, a strong documentation, process, implementation and evidence methods are necessary. We also became very communicative both internally and externally to all our stakeholders.

What lessons did CAAM learnt from the pandemic to improve the resilience of our civil aviation industry?
The answer to this lies in our ability to be agile. By agility, I believe both regulators and industry players must be ready to change and adapt with a deep understanding of the true value of safety. We learnt that it is very important to digitalise and use alternative means to achieve the same or higher level of safety. As such, we must embrace technology and maximise its use to our advantage.

In instilling confidence among passengers towards flying again after the pandemic, what are some efforts undertaken by CAAM?
CAAM has issued our own safety guidance materials that are compliant to ICAO’s Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce. They have been revised according to ICAO, our local authorities and the MOT’s updated requirements. In many cases, we have exceeded what was required and both our airlines and airports have quickly adapted and adopted the safest most compliant approach to safety. CAAM also conducted regular safety oversight and surveillance on our license holders to ensure the highest level of compliance. This has been met with great support and results and we urge all in the industry to keep improving their compliance level as this is key in building public confidence and our ability to operate safely.

In terms of recruitment for the aviation industry, there have been drives to employ more engineers besides those for internal audit and the legal divisions. Amid the acute staff shortage faced by various local industries, how has CAAM’s experience been like? Following the lifting of restrictions as Malaysia enters the endemic phase, the shortage of skilled workers has affected most industries. For aviation, license holders would require activation or requalification. There will also need to be proper planning and an early start to recruitment as critical staff are part of the whole manpower ratio system required to manage airline operations. This is important to ensure timeliness of the return to pre-pandemic capacity levels as both training and reactivation require lead time to complete. CAAM will facilitate the industry in terms of providing a clear regulatory process that is timely according to our client charter.

Despite CAAM’s safety briefing sessions on the importance of flight operations safety and compliance with regulations, there have recently been incidences flight crash and skidding lately during training? What can be done to minimise them?
CAAM continues to strive to ensure the safest air travel and operations in Malaysia. We have been very communicative over the past
two years. As seen from our website, CAAM has been providing information and safety notices to keep the industry abreast. We believe the best approach to safety is the ability to mitigate risk and all efforts have been made to prevent an abnormal situation or accident. It is vital that we all learn from such incidences to enhance our training programmes, safety awareness approaches and a strict diligence to do the right thing.

On the risk-based approach in ensuring an organisation’s readiness for aircraft to return to the service industry, what are CAAM’s efforts in this area? CAAM’s Airworthiness Division has come up with a comprehensive checklist for operators planning to return to service aircraft that have been in hibernation, be it short, medium or long term. These aircraft, depending on their category, will require different levels of maintenance and inspections. Major operators have in place effective safety management systems and good maintenance set-ups. Our regulator’s role is to facilitate the return to service in a timely manner, ensuring that the operators complete diligently the maintenance requirements according to regulations. The return to service checklist thus serves as a guide to ensure all compliances are met with minimal errors. CAAM strives to see all aircraft returned to service safely and in full compliance.

With regards to technology and the environment, what are your thoughts in terms of aviation safety and sustainability?
It is very important the aviation industry embraces new technology and a harmonised approach in striving to achieve the best results. Digitalisation must result in reduced environmental harm for sustainability’s sake. Every small effort counts and adds up to the whole big picture of protecting our environment. In terms of safety, the use of the latest equipment with robust preventive maintenance methods and multiple redundancies are key in ensuring our use of high technology to increase reliability and accuracy, which in turn enhances safety for everyone.

Following Sandakan Airport’s recent expansion, what are some safety measures introduced to enhance the flight navigation operations for airlines?
The Sandakan Airport upgrade is timely and I applaud Malaysia Airports in ensuring safe and secure operations. Apart from the lengthening of the runway, new Primary Surveillance Radar/ Secondary Surveillance Radar and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast maintained by CAAM as part of our air navigation service provider obligation have also been installed to ensure the most stable air traffic management systems for commercial operations. They come with multiple redundancies to minimise risk of disruption due to down time.

Malaysia was recently re-elected as ICAO’s member state for 2022-25. What does this mean for our country and the aviation industry?
CAAM applauds MOT’s efforts in retaining this important council seat, which was achieved with strong support from our civil aviation industry players that included Malaysia Airports, Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia Berhad and Batik Air Malaysia. This council seat has not only enabled Malaysia to have a voice in the international aviation community but also showcased our ability in contributing to aviation training, effectiveness of safety oversight and efforts in sustainability. CAAM will strive to support MOT’s efforts in ensuring ICAO’s approach of no country being left behind is met as we collectively contribute to the safety of air travel.

Any last words for the aviation industry?
The key is to be humble, keep learning from everyone and in the face of adversity, always stay calm and have the tenacity to work on the positive and embrace change with lots of stamina. Lastly, trust your team and empower them since they are your most important assets and instill an open and sincere work culture.

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