Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Passenger and Cargo Aircraft Were Not Safe Despite Assurances

Air Authorities Act in Unison Over War Zone Flights
Shipping News Feature

UKRAINE – ISRAEL – WORLDWIDE – It has transpired that the relevant global aviation authorities were completely mislead over the safety of flight paths for cargo and passenger aircraft above conflict zones, which led to the tragic downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17. Now, following a meeting called by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has joined with the Airports Council International (ACI) and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) in a declaration committing the four parties to review processes regarding future policy for freight and passenger flights.

The declaration includes a commitment by ICAO, with the support of its industry partners, to immediately establish a senior level Task Force composed of state and industry experts to address the civil aviation and national security issues arising from MH17. In particular, the Task Force will look at how relevant information can be effectively collected and disseminated. IATA will be among the participants on the task force and its Director General and CEO, Tony Tyler, explained:

“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. 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. We were told that flights traversing Ukraine’s territory at above 32,000 feet would not be in harm’s way. We now know how wrong that guidance was.

“It is essential that airlines receive clear guidance regarding threats to their passengers, crew and aircraft. Such information must be accessible in an authoritative, accurate, consistent, and unequivocal way. This is the responsibility of [individual] States, there can be no excuses. Even sensitive information can be sanitised and still remain operationally relevant."

Tyler pointed out the confusion regarding the current situation using the conflict in Gaza as an example, when a clear illustration of the need for such information became evident last week with respect to operations to and from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. Tyler continued:

“The Israeli authorities declared that the airport was safe. The US Federal Aviation Administration told its airlines they could not fly. And the European Aviation Safety Agency provided strong recommendations that European airlines should not fly. This is all far from the authoritative, accurate, consistent, and unequivocal information needed to support effective decisions on such an important issue, Governments must do better. 

“Weapons of war —including powerful anti-aircraft weaponry— are also in the hands of non-State entities. We have conventions that address chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, plastic explosives, and weapons trade generally. But there is no international law or convention to manage them as exists for many other forms of weaponry. MH 17 shows us that this is a gap in the international system which must be closed. Under ICAO’s leadership, I am confident that we can find ways within the UN system, to augment the international law framework to ensure that states fully understand and discharge their responsibilities in this regard.

“Every day about 100,000 flights take to the air and land safely. The systems supporting global aviation have produced the safest mode of transportation known to humankind. 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.”