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Panel Summary Report: A Global Roundtable on the Future of Aviation Policy

Image credit: Epicantus

By Alexandra Slobodov

On November 25, 2020, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) hosted a panel in partnership with InterVISTAS. This panel is part of the IPD discussion series on the impact of COVID-19 on international peace and security. This discussion series is supported by the Department of National Defence’s Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program.

The panel brought together a group of global leaders, policy thinkers and decision makers to discuss the future of aviation policy and address three critical questions:

  • Are international institutions, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), well-equipped to cope with rapid changes to the global aviation ecosystem?
  • What is the meaning of sustainability in a post-pandemic world? What changes can we expect to see domestically in terms of regulatory trends, adoption of the climate change agenda, and geopolitical alignments?
  • As governments struggle to contain COVID-19 and the aviation sector continues to suffer financially, are we likely to enter an era of contained liberalization, aero-political wars, and forced institutional convergence?

We were thrilled to welcome our keynote speaker, Violeta Bulc—Curator of Ecocivilisation, EU Commissioner for Transport, and Deputy Prime Minister of Republic of Slovenia—and our four distinguished panelists:

  • Anita Mosner, Partner and Co-Chair, Transportation and Infrastructure Group, Holland & Knight LLP
  • David Sprecher, Partner and Head of Aviation, Transportation and Tourism Practice, Shibolet Law Firm
  • Juan Carlos Salazar, Director General, Colombia Civil Aviation Authority
  • Pablo Mendes de Leon, Director, International Institute of Air and Space Law, Leiden University. 

This panel discussion was moderated by Marcelo Garcia, the Senior Director of InterVISTAS.

The event was divided into two sessions, with the first featuring a keynote address from Violeta Bulc and the second comprising a roundtable discussion about the policy and regulatory challenges the aviation industry currently faces in three regions of the world: the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

Session 1: Violeta Bulc Keynote Address

Violeta Bulc began her keynote by highlighting that the modern era is shaped by unpredictability and rapid change. Bulc stressed that it is therefore important for the aviation industry to take this period of interruption as an opportunity to prepare for future challenges and accept that frequent readjustments have become a part of day-to-day life.

While technology has certainly become ubiquitous in post-millennial society, global consciousness about climate change and the devastating consequences of constant growth is on the rise. Bulc introduced concepts such as Society 5.0 and Ecocivilisation which place an emphasis on a human-centric approach which employs technology as a tool rather than a destination. To ensure the success of any industry, employers must put employees first by displaying tolerance, patience, respect and empathy.

As Bulc’s work currently focuses on Ecocivilisation, she applied the concept to the restoration of aviation in a post-pandemic world. Stressing that the industry must seek diverse and unconventional market opportunities, she advocated for a personalized approach that would address travelers’ concerns about flying and tourism. Also necessary would be for the industry to embrace its role as part of an ecosystem rather than as an independent, untouchable entity. All stakeholders (such as airports, traffic control, airlines) must come together to find sustainable solutions. Collaboration with other modes of transportation such as urban mobility and railways could also foster an improved customer experience.

The first steps in the industry’s recovery is widely considered to be mandatory immunization for all passengers. However, Bulc stressed her support for diversified protocols and technological solutions that position aviation as the driver of global connectivity and establish a framework of trust that would allow for mass travel to re-emerge.

The aviation industry must also apply lessons learned following the September 11 attacks and the subsequent drop in air travel. To address that challenge, the industry adopted clear and transparent security protocol regarding what passengers can expect, which allowed travel to eventually re-establish itself. Such an approach could also prove salutary for addressing the crisis brought on by COVID-19. Bulc finished by suggesting that a transparent approach, in concert with diverse technological options, predictability, integrated solutions and cooperation with stakeholders, would serve to promote the industry’s recovery.

Session 2: Global Roundtable

The second session consisted of a global roundtable focused on COVID-19 governance. Marcelo Garcia asked the panelists to examine the underlying and institutional challenges at both the national and global levels, as well as equitable recovery strategies that could contribute to restoring global connectivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the state back to the centre of financial decision making. Pablo Mendes de Leon explained that individual states, rather than the EU, have played the leading role in providing financial relief, especially to airlines with close governmental ties (such as British Airways, Air France, KLM, Lufthansa.) In the United States, Anita Mosner explained that the government provided short-term aid and wage support to carriers in order to avoid a full-scale collapse of the industry and the overall American economy. David Sprecher stated that in Israel, the government was eager to provide airlines with aid, though Sprecher added that it was not entirely sufficient.

Throughout the pandemic, the state has also played a central role in health decision making. As health falls into domestic (rather than international) jurisdiction, Mendes de Leon explained that European states will continue to play a large role in setting regulations to restart the industry. Salazar reiterated this point by explaining that public health is fundamentally a local issue and thus the role of global institutions in this domain would be limited.

Both Mosner and Sprecher emphasized that there had been record-breaking air traffic and profitability in the years prior to the pandemic. Juan Carlos Salazar explained that the Colombian aviation industry and civil authority were taken by surprise and did not immediately know how to proceed. In terms of strategies for reinvigorating the aviation industry, Salazar echoed Bulc’s points, noting that aviation is no longer self-contained and that it is critical to engage with other entities (such as airports and local governments) in order to make the industry increasingly people-centred.

In terms of geopolitical developments, Mosner explained that the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and China has caused the former to impose restrictions on Chinese passenger carriers. In regard to the Middle East, Sprecher noted that the recently signed peace agreements with both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have allowed for the entry of their respective airlines and therefore created increased competition for Israeli airlines.

Garcia followed up with all the panelists to ask for their opinions on the type of reforms global institutions such as ICAO should adopt moving forward. Salazar answered that ICAO should travel to every member state in order to collaborate with governments and determine the importance of the aviation industry for each country’s economy. He explained that ICAO could coordinate different public goods based on the specific needs of each region, providing the example of the European Union’s requirement of solid commitments on the reduction of carbon emissions. Bulc added that countries have experience engaging globally, stemming from previous dialogues on the decarbonization of aviation. This has familiarized states and corporate actors with multilateral and rules-based cooperation, and therefore could provide a blueprint for engagement on COVID-19. De Mendes underscored that air transport interests and national health interests must be balanced: ICAO should coordinate with international health organizations such as the WHO. Mosner noted that ongoing industry adaptation to travel patterns will likely bring about innovation from smart, agile companies, which will ultimately find its way into the regulatory ecosystem. Salazar concluded by stating that active collaboration on the part of the aviation industry is key to regaining travellers’ trust and better preparing for future challenges.


Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor