ICAO to set up task force in wake of downing of Malaysia Airlines flight

MONTREAL – The CEO of the international organization that represents the world’s air carriers has targeted military and intelligence agencies, saying they have a moral duty to ensure that innocent people are not put in harm’s way.

“All these agencies of government, including intelligence or military defence agencies, have as their overriding responsibility the safety and lives of innocent people,” Tony Tyler of the International Air Transport Association said Tuesday.

He made the comment at a joint news conference where ICAO, the UN body that governs civil aviation, announced it is setting up a task force aimed at improving security measures in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

The plane was shot down in mid-July by a surface-to-air missile while flying over a war-torn section of Ukraine.

“MH17 was a tragedy that should not have happened,” Tyler declared.

He said that “civil aircraft are instruments of peace (and) they should never be the target of weapons of war — and that’s enshrined in international law.”

Tyler also noted that there’s no international law or convention that imposes a duty on states to manage the design, manufacture and deployment of anti-aircraft weapons.

It is believed that an anti-aircraft weapon fired by pro-Russian rebels may have brought down flight MH17.

“MH17 has demonstrated that powerful and sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry is in the hands of non-state entities,” Tyler said.

“And under ICAO’s leadership, I am confident that we can find ways within the United Nations system to augment the international law framework to ensure that states fully understand and discharge their responsibilities in this regard.”

Tyler, whose organization represents 240 member airlines, noted there are already international conventions that address chemical, nuclear, biological and plastic explosives.

Raymond Benjamin, the secretary-general of the International Civil Aviation Organization, also announced that the agency will convene a high-level safety meeting with its 191 member states in February 2015.

He said states have been reminded of their responsibilities to address any potential risks to civil aviation in their air space.

“We recognize the essential need for information and intelligence that might affect the safety of our passengers and crew,” Benjamin said.

“This is a highly complex and politically sensitive area of international co-ordination involving not only civil aviation regulations and procedures but also state national security and intelligence-gathering activities.”

Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, president of the ICAO Council, said the military will be invited to take part in the discussions that will involve member states.

“We have to talk to the civil authorities and military authorities as well,” he added.

Angela Gittens, director general of Airports Council International, which represents the world’s airports, echoed other officials in insisting that air travel remains the safest mode of transportation.

“What we can say with certainty is that for the overwhelming number of flights and passengers, the system has worked and has worked well,” she said.

“What we need to address is the fact that some states may not have the capabilities or willingness to provide robust intelligence in a constant manner.”

“Along every step of the traveller’s journey, we need to make sure that we have actionable intelligence relating to threats.”

Jeff Poole, who runs the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation representing air navigation service providers, said Tuesday there is a collective will and a sense of urgency to review and fix the shortfalls identified by the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

“The governance framework of civil aviation has actually served us well,” he said.”Air traffic management has a remarkable safety record, but MH17 reminds us all that we can always do better and need to do so.”