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Global airlines to press for guidance in conflict zones: MH17

July 29, 2014, Montreal - Global airlines will push to get “neutral information” on whether to use or avoid airspace over conflict zones at Tuesday’s meeting of the UN aviation agency and other airline bodies, a European-based airline industry source said.


July 29, 2014
By The Globe and Mail

The UN agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, has
invited the heads of the airline industry, airports and the world’s air
traffic control networks to the Montreal meeting to discuss what needs
to be changed to ensure that airliners are flying in secure airspace
after the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine on July 17 took
298 lives.

The meeting is likely to hear calls for wider international powers to
intervene when a country fails to monitor threats to its airspace. The
Malaysia Airlines crash occurred after Ukraine left open air corridors
that lay within the range of the missile blamed for destroying the jet.

 

Airlines,
represented by International Air Transport Association, will tell the
meeting they urgently need improved access to “neutral information based
on objective criteria,” the industry source said.

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“Airlines do
not have CIA operatives working for them,” said the source who spoke on
condition of anonymity. “At the end of the day, airlines have to decide
whether to fly or not based on accurate information.

 

“Yet some
countries will never, ever say there is a problem with their airspace
even if there really is a problem with their airspace. This does not
make it easy for airlines.”

On Monday, Emirates Airline announced it would stop flying over Iraq to protect against the threat of militants on the ground.

 

ICAO
currently has a limited role and cannot open or close airspace. It
issued an advisory this year, warning of a jurisdictional risk posed by
two sets of air traffic controllers directing traffic over the Crimea
region.

 

Enhancing ICAO’s role to give it the authority to tell
airlines where to fly, or to tell its members what to do with their
airspace, would test rules that dates back to First World War peace
agreements and are enshrined in ICAO’s founding charter.

 

It would
also require the agency to obtain sensitive information from its member
states about their internal military and political affairs.

 

Diplomats
say any attempt to tamper with the sovereignty of airspace could set
broader precedents that make quick results unlikely. The United States
has already said it is not seeking changes to ICAO’s guidelines.

 

The
Civil Air Navigation Services Organization, involved in Tuesday’s
meeting, has also said it is not pushing for a central body to provide
oversight or issue advisories.

While ICAO is unlikely to gain broad regulatory powers, some UN agency insiders and industry experts said the agency could help keep country regulators better informed.

 

It
already publishes a Global Risk Context Statement, which describes
risks to airliners in broad terms.

 

The document highlights the risk of
shoulder-mounted missiles, for example. But it does not say where in the
world these risks are most severe, information of crucial interest to
airlines.

 

One council representative raised the possibility of
expanding the Risk Context Statement to include more details about
regional conflicts.

 

“Nonbinding advisories may be possible,” said
another source familiar with ICAO. “Airlines want ICAO’s involvement as
ICAO may have better access to government sources of security
intelligence, and thus could help make better information available to
airlines.”

 

But governments may not be eager to share sensitive
military intelligence, and singling out particular regions could anger
some states.

 

“Where ICAO has success is where they keep out of
politics, as much as possible,” said David

Mackenzie, a Canadian
professor who has written a history of the UN agency.

 

Even if there is a consensus in favour of expanding ICAO’s role in some way, it may not last.

 

“When
there are challenges, people want ICAO to get involved,” said a second
council representative.

 

“But when we are further away from problems, the
states would like ICAO to go away.”