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Next ICAO Meeting - Measures that Make a Difference

The next ICAO Assembly could contain resolutions with some far-reaching implications for airlines. With its wide remit, the critical work of the United Nations’ aviation body affects the whole industry

Overview: working together

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is the aviation body of the United Nations. Its remit comes from the 1944 Chicago Convention.

Michael Comber, Director, ICAO Relations, IATA, believes that the IATA-ICAO relationship is vital to promoting worldwide harmonization in air transport. “IATA participates directly in the development of global standards set by ICAO,” he says. “These standards are essential to ensure a safe, efficient, and sustainable air transport system.”

Issues currently occupying the IATA-ICAO common agenda include the major challenges of safety, security, and the environment. These will form the basis of the agenda at the 37th ICAO Assembly, held 18 September–8 October in Montreal. Global standards and their implementation are a core element of ICAO’s work, particularly in relation to those regions that lag behind worldwide progress. IATA is also working with ICAO on promoting efficiency in infrastructure. “There is a lot to be done,” says Comber. “Implementation of Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures would have a significant impact on safety and efficiency. ICAO is absolutely the right place to work through this issue.”

NextGen in the United States and the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) are the big ticket items as far as harmonization in air traffic management is concerned. It is essential these two large, comprehensive systems are synchronized at every step of their development. Any misalignment would be very costly for airlines, not to mention the training and potential safety implications. Air traffic improvements will be an enormous boon to environmental efforts. It is crucial that the upcoming Assembly adopts a global agreement on environmental goals and market-based measures. The sustainable growth of air transport cannot happen without this agreement.

There are various ICAO working bodies dealing with many other issues. As a permanent observer and active participant in these groups, IATA provides input in the technical, economical, aeropolitical, environmental and legal fields. Most importantly, it is engaged from the beginning to the end of such processes.

“Finding consensus among states is challenging and takes time,” asserts Comber. “So it’s vital for IATA to work jointly with ICAO from the outset providing operator expertise to ensure that airlines’ needs are fully considered.

“From the environment to safety, we want measures that can make a difference,” Comber concludes. “And we want standards that are affordable and practical for airlines and regulators to implement.”

Safety

ICAO concluded a High Level Meeting (HLM) on safety in March 2010. One of the main points of the discussions was ensuring better leverage from the existing safety audit systems. While the various audits and safety initiatives—such as IATA’s Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) and the FAA’s Safety Team (FAAST)—are complementary, they effectively act in isolation.

Combining these systems would give the aviation industry a very powerful analytical tool. “So, before we have an accident, or an airline gets banned, we might be able to identify relevant trends and prevent such situations from happening,” says Guenther Matschnigg, Senior Vice President, Safety, Operations and Infrastructure at IATA. The idea of data sharing, championed by IATA’s Global Safety Information Center (GSIC), still requires a lot of hard work. For example, there is much to be done concerning safeguards, such as the protection of information. And there are many legal hurdles.

Nevertheless, the HLM on safety has managed to achieve a consensus, a working plan, which will now go forward to the ICAO Assembly in September. “Putting this plan forward at the Assembly will help get more states involved, and we will gain some important momentum in making data sharing a reality,” Matschnigg notes.

Security

The attempted bombing of a Northwest flight in late December 2009 has pushed security into the spotlight once again. IATA has been fully engaged with ICAO since that time in working on a security template. This would form the basis of industry/government consultations on all future security matters, and so avoid the disparate standards that encumber current security efforts.

Regional meetings are taking place and IATA, together with ICAO, has agreed on five basic recommendations. The obvious one is the need to work together. All stakeholders must engage in a united effort to implement global standards. However, that implementation must be within the industry’s capability—both practically and financially.

Another element that needs widespread approval concerns the collection of passenger information. “This must be made as efficient as possible, and crucially governments must coordinate these requirements across borders,” says Matschnigg, who is also responsible for global security at IATA.
Lastly, there is a need to develop a new approach to checkpoint screening that combines technology and intelligence, so that bad people, not just bad objects, are on the watchlist. ICAO has agreed to work with those countries that have limited resources to help them implement and maintain global standards in security. It will also comprehensively measure security processing times so the scale of the challenge and any developments can be accurately assessed.

Environment

The idea of a global framework has been agreed by all aviation industry stakeholders and supported by many countries—but this needs to be confirmed with appropriate ICAO resolutions before COP-16.
There are several checkpoints along the way to the ICAO Assembly in September. Input from Friends of the President, a group of 18 countries, has provided important guidelines. Additionally, the Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) has put forward several ideas about the path forward for aviation.

Despite the intense discussions, challenges remain. The main problem is that aviation is a very small part of the climate change debate. ICAO therefore has to come up with a solution for air transport that is acceptable on a broader scale. The stumbling block is how to deal with the differing needs of states.
The Chicago Convention, which established ICAO, has a clear principle of equal treatment for states, although this shouldn’t be a barrier. A global framework can still include differentiated implementation, a proven approach on noise and safety.

ICAO must address the needs of developing countries—and there are ongoing discussions to this effect—and will also need to define the extent of airline responsibility.

At the same time, there is a discussion about mitigation efforts. Some developing countries are wary of a global approach as they fear it may encourage unwanted links and compromise their positions on other climate change issues.

It is equally vital that emissions are dealt with under the ICAO umbrella. The proliferation of emissions trading schemes—Europe’s is being mirrored by proposals in Australia, the US and Japan among others—creates a multi-layer of costs, coming on top of national taxes, such as Germany’s newly proposed departure tax.

Aviation as a global sector was foreseen by Article 2.2 of the Kyoto Protocol. Mobile sources of emissions like international aviation cannot be handled by national schemes, but must be accounted for at a global level under the auspices of ICAO. This would ensure airlines are accountable once—and once only—for their emissions.

And there are other environmental issues, which have yet to reach the Assembly level, but are nevertheless occupying ICAO time. There was a Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) meeting in early February, which looked at Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions, CO2 standards and also revisited the noise issue.

“Stringency over NOx emissions has some flexibility for airlines built in, but they need time to prepare, and we’re trying to make sure airlines have this,” confirms Paul Steele, IATA Director, Aviation Environment.

For more information on ICAO visit: www.icao.int

Interview

Raymond Benjamin, Secretary-General, ICAO explains that a successful Assembly is vital to aviation’s future

How is ICAO changing under your guidance?

Overall, my objective is to make ICAO more relevant and responsive to industry needs. To achieve these goals, in my first six months, there were some significant changes. The secretariat was reorganized and streamlined. For example, the directors have been given additional responsibility, and they are also more accountable. And those areas that were running at a deficit are now breaking even.

I have also set up two new, distinct branches, one to deal with security and the other to deal with the environment. ICAO simply couldn’t make significant progress on these topics with the resources available under the previous structure.

The ICAO budget has had zero nominal growth over the past 20 years. Some 75% of our money comes from just five countries, and basically it was policy in each of these countries not to increase the nominal budget. We are now talking about real budget increases to allow ICAO to operate effectively.

You’ve identified three focus areas; safety, security and sociability (environment). In safety, is data sharing the way forward?

I think it is essential. We are a very safe industry, and safety is always the top priority. But if you take the current ratio of accidents to traffic and then project that on to the forecast increase in traffic, it is clear that we must make improvements.

We know that we must improve the figures in Africa. Traffic there is relatively small so the figures can be slightly misleading, but we must be vigilant. We’re putting more resources into our African offices, and we will be working with safety oversight organizations to see how they can benefit from the data sharing strategy.

There were some legal issues involved in the data sharing agreement, but we should be in complete accord by the September Assembly. This agreement brings together IATA, which deals with the airlines; ICAO, which deals with states; the EU, which is particularly strong on ramp operations; and the FAA, which has a good overview and an enormous amount of data.

But it’s important to note we don’t have to stop there. Any other organization is more than welcome to join us.

Will we ever see the same coordination in security measures as we’ve seen in safety?

It’s important that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is a good system in place, but we need to translate this into a much-improved customer experience. To achieve balance between security and good passenger processing there needs to be a fundamental shift of focus from objects to people. 

This is a global issue, because passengers can enter the air transport system at any point. We will need to provide assistance to those countries that need it, and I am working with donor states to ensure that happens. We will provide the resources, and in return we only ask for the political will to see through the necessary changes.
Of course, security is an area where it is easy to see what needs to be done on paper, but is very difficult to achieve in practice. I am, however, confident that the Assembly will adopt a comprehensive security strategy.

What are your expectations for the Assembly and COP-16 in regards to the environment?

COP-15 didn’t deal with aviation so we now have an opportunity to a find a global agreement at the ICAO Assembly that we can take to COP-16 in Cancun, Mexico. This means we have to find a position that the air transport industry and governments can agree on.

We are halfway there because the industry is already in agreement. Getting governments to find a common position will be more difficult. Some believe that engaging the problem through ICAO would be pre-judging the bigger picture being discussed at COP-16.

We have another fundamental problem. ICAO operates on the Chicago Convention, which clearly stipulates a non-discriminatory policy. States are bound by the rather different Kyoto Protocol. The challenge is to find a solution to this discrepancy.

Recently, the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) announced a CO2 standard that will come into effect in 2013. CAEP is also studying market-based options and improvements in routes and air navigation.
The image of aviation is a concern. Airlines are only 2% of the climate change problem and they have made enormous improvements. And the European ash cloud crisis proved that aviation is indispensable. We saw losses for hi-tech companies in Europe as well as for farmers in Kenya, not to mention the inconvenience caused to millions of passengers. But still the environmentalist views air travel as a luxury that isn’t doing enough to reduce its carbon footprint. I honestly feel there is a good chance of a substantive agreement at the Assembly.

I don’t, however, expect a legal instrument to be signed at COP-16, but we will have gained important momentum. ICAO will be established as the means to provide solutions for the aviation sector, and it will be made clear that airlines cannot be used simply as a way to generate revenue.

Overall, you seem to have high hopes for the ICAO Assembly?

Aviation needs a strong ICAO. We must succeed on the three fronts of safety, security and the environment. It is the only way for the industry to be profitable. It is not a case of making improvements in these areas or being profitable. It is interlinked. Making improvements will lead to profitability.

Success will depend on partnerships. Government and industry must work together. Already, we have a much stronger relationship between IATA and ICAO, so that is a good start. Our cooperation is showing tangible progress in a number of areas.

Look at what happened with the ash cloud crisis. Within hours we were speaking with each other and IATA made a presentation to ICAO to identify the problems. The Volcanic Ash Contingency Plan was amended in June, less than two months after the initial problem. As I said at the outset, ICAO will become more relevant and more responsive.

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