The European High Level Task Force on Conflict Zones handed over on 17 March 2016 its final report to Mrs. Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport. In the aftermath of the tragic downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, the report contains recommendations which address the risks to civil aviation when flying over conflict zones. The primary recommendation was the creation of a common European risk assessment of conflict zones and a quick alert mechanism to notify the aviation community.
That same MH17 shot down caused ICAO to respond with a website which lists these conflict zones. The information provided there is posted by the Members of that United Nations organization. The governance of that body and the disclaimer included on the website suggest that the credibility of the zones posted there are the highest.
ICAO is composed of 191 countries; each one of which has a vote on major resolutions at the General Assembly. The influence of the Members, particularly as to countries with embarrassing internal conflicts, may lead to “watering down” such judgment calls. The recent experience is instructive–with the Tel Aviv rocket, the ban on flights by EASA and the FAA, while the Israeli government argued that it was safe. The same mixed instructions are likely to be heard from the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea.
ICAO, itself, had to reprimand North Korea for failing to notify “related countries in advance of its mid-range missile launch.” In the letter, ICAO urged North Korea to adhere to the obligation of reporting any event that could affect aviation safety on the Notice to Airmen, an alert for aircraft pilots about potential hazards along their flight routes. It is a difficult system given the national motives of some problematic countries.
When ICAO announced that it had established “a new website issuing warnings about risks to aircraft in conflict zones…” The press release indicated that its new website had a major limitation:
“Only authorized State officials will have the right to submit risk information under the procedures agreed to by the ICAO Council,” according to the press release. “In all cases, the identity of the State submitting information to the repository will be clearly indicated, and States being referenced in a risk submission will also have the opportunity to review and approve the related information prior to public posting.”
The limitation may, in fact, be greater than the general statement. As noted before, ICAO is an organization of sovereigns and it stretches credulity that a nation would admit that the situation within its borders REQUIRE that flights be diverted from its airspace.
More telling is the ICAO’s legal disclaimer/reasons why you should not rely on the information:
“The purpose of this site is to compile in a centralized and recognized location of certain information promulgated by States regarding risks to civil aircraft arising from conflict zones.
The act of posting information to this site does not alter, fulfil, or replace States’ reporting and notification requirements, or other similar obligations, as provided by the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, its Annexes, or any other applicable instruments of law. This site may be used in conjunction with other information sources and is not to be considered as a sole source of information for undertaking risk assessments related to conflict zones.
This site is informational in nature and its contents are made available without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. The information on this site is restricted to submissions from ICAO authorized users based on publicly available sources; however, ICAO does not warrant that the contents are accurate, valid, reliable, complete, comprehensive, correct or up-to-date, that this website will be available at any particular time or location, that any defects or errors will be corrected, or that the content is free of viruses or other harmful components.
ICAO shall not be liable for any direct, indirect, punitive, incidental, special or consequential damages (including, but not limited to, damages for loss of business profits, business interruption, or loss of programs or information) that result from the use or inability to use such site, or from the use or non-use of the information provided herein, in particular for, but not limited to, errors or omissions in the contents of the website, consequences of its use or non-use, or inaccurate transmission or misdirection.”
The existence of a disclaimer is troubling, but the actual legal language strongly dilutes the degree to which an airline would give great credibility to the zones listed and even more—the threats which are not identified.
Why a UN organization which appears to be protected by sovereign immunity thought it appropriate to issue a long, iron clad declination of liability is mystifying and suggests that ICAO has concerns about the quality of its website.
The EU conflict zone website announcement is far more encouraging as witnessed by these quotes:
Violeta Bulc, EU Commissioner for Transport said: “The threat of terrorism to civil aviation is likely to remain high in the foreseeable future, which is why aviation safety and security standards are one of my top priorities. This report contains proposals to further improve the current situation that I consider essential. In particular, I welcome the improvements to the process for building common EU conflict zone risk assessments and the proposal for a quick alert mechanism. Time for action is now – it is essential that concrete steps are put in place to protect EU citizens when flying.”
Patrick Ky, EASA Executive Director said: “It is a collective effort: in coordination with the EU Member States, EASA will put in place as soon as possible a system allowing to timely disseminate validated information and recommendations related to conflict zones”
A summary of the report of the European High Level Task Force on Conflict Zones includes some very important reassurances. Here are a few of those points:
“EU Member States are recommended to set up national systems for addressing Risks to Civil Aviation from Conflict Zone in which relevant information is shared with operators. In addition, EU Member States should cooperate in sharing conflict zone information with the view to enable the development of common EU risk assessments (facilitated by DG HOME) and to enable the timely sharing of information on rapidly emerging new threats.
The intelligence agencies should support national systems for addressing risks arising from conflict zones and should support the State’s contribution to the sharing of information at EU level on rapidly emerging new threats.
Operators should make use of available information and recommendations on conflict zones, and incorporate this information into their risk assessment or decision making processes. They should furthermore share own risk assessment information with their national authorities, and are encouraged to share this information with the RCZ Network, and EASA.
Rather than bringing into question the credulity of their website, as was the case with ICAO, the EASA website inspires confidence in the reliance on its information.
GOOD JOB EASA!!!