ICAO to set up security task force

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is to set up a senior level task force, composed of state and industry experts, to address civil aviation and national security issues in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH17 disaster.

Flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17 as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The Boeing 777 aircraft is believed to have been shot down.

ICAO announced its decision at a meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), ICAO, the Airports Council International and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) in Montreal, Canada, last week.

The high-level meeting was called by ICAO to discuss appropriate actions that could mitigate potential risks to civil aviation in conflict zones. The declaration committed the parties to review processes for the overflight of conflict zones.

The Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) called on states to share information and intelligence so airlines can make informed decisions about the safest routes to fly.

CANSO said the downing of Flight MH17 raised vital questions about the safety of aircraft over conflict zones and that the incident showed that there are gaps in the overall management of airspace.

“In order to provide safe and effective ATM for airspace users and passengers, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) need correct and reliable information, guidance, and decisions from states,” it said. “We need the right information at the right place at the right time to enable prompt and appropriate airspace management actions. For ATM we do not need detailed security and intelligence reasons for airspace restrictions or closures, but we do need authoritative, accurate and consistent decisions from the appropriate authorities.”

IATA director-general and CEO Tony Tyler said: “The tragic shooting-down of MH17 was an attack on the whole air transport industry. The world’s airlines are angry. Civil aircraft are instruments of peace. They should not be the target of weapons of war. That is enshrined in international law through the Chicago Convention.”

The statement said the task force would look at how relevant information could be effectively collected and disseminated.

“We are asking ICAO to address two critical tasks. The first, and most urgent, is to ensure that governments provide airlines with better information with which to make risk assessments of the various threats they may face.

“The second is equally important but comes with a longer time frame. We will find ways through international law that will oblige governments better to control weapons which have the capability to pose a danger to civil aviation. Achieving these will make our safe industry even safer,” said Tyler.

“There is no need for major surgery. But we must identify and close some specific gaps in the system that, however infrequently, lead to unspeakable mistakes and tragedies,” he said.

The European pilot community said it shared the concerns of the international stakeholders and reiterates the need for a thorough and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the loss of MH17.

“ECA considers this as a non-disputable prerequisite that should be ensured at all costs. At the same time, this event places the ability of the industry to adequately assess risks and the principles of flying over conflict zones under intense scrutiny. As pilots and safety professionals we cannot disregard one fundamental question “What could have been done and can be done in the future to prevent this sort of tragedy?”.”

“We share the public outrage over MH17, and we owe it to the passengers and crew who lost their lives, and all our future passengers, to see past this and focus on prevention first and foremost,” says Nico Voorbach, ECA president. “MH17 exposed a significant weakness – if not a failure – of international threat and risk assessment in civil aviation. In hindsight flying civilian aircraft over an area where powerful anti-aircraft systems capable of bringing down an airliner at cruising altitude are in active use is not acceptable. So the question is what went wrong and how do we fix it?”

He said at first sight, appropriate risk assessment apparently DID occur in the case of Ukraine but pointed out that it only worked for the carriers of some countries. “The fact that some airlines had been avoiding the area based on their own assessment for weeks begs the question “why?”. It appears that some airlines have the possibility of very good intelligence and advice from the most powerful national security services. It is not right that some countries may provide privileged risk assessment and advice to their carriers, whilst others are left at greater risk. After all, this is about people’s lives, not national silos.”

“Additionally, it would seem likely that some restrictions may be placed on what intelligence an airline can share with other airlines and stakeholders. We must ask governments what those restrictions might be, and how we can ensure that the airlines are able to share information in such a way that the highest levels of risk avoidance can be rolled out to all.”

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