ICAO Conflict Zone Information Repository
ICAO’s Strength is Setting Standards, Not Enforcing Rules
James Wynbrandt attended the NBAA International Operations Conference in Atlanta, March 13-16, 2017 reporting on behalf of AINonline. As with any seasoned aviation reporter, he asked the right questions and the answers revealed an institutional flaw inherent in ICAO.
There, Steve Creamer, the director of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau gave the Conference Keynote Address. Mr. Creamer was appointed to that post in Montreal in April, 2015. Before assuming that global responsibility, he worked for the FAA for 33 years, mostly in AT, but he was also well versed in international issues as FAA Regional Office Director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East; and serving as a member of the ICAO Air Navigation Commission.
The AINonline article quotes Director Creamer’s critical observations:
“The agency’s limitations in this role have been ‘revealed’ since it launched its conflict zone information repository after the 2014 downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine, he said. However, a survey conducted in January by ICAO, IATA, IBAC and ACI concluded appropriate information on risks to civil aviation is available through ‘multiple corporate solutions’ that ‘do not depend on the political apparatus in one state.’”
“Creamer added, ‘Even in the U.S., [warnings] might not be as timely as we’d like to see,’ due to the ‘diplomatic ramifications’ of publishing them.”
The International Civil Aviation Organization is a United Nations governmental body. ICAO is composed of 191 countries, each one of which has a vote on major resolutions. It functions with a Governing Council of 36 counties, which provides regular direction to the ICAO professionals. The General Assembly is composed of all of the countries. While the major aviation representatives have considerable sway at the Council level, the Assembly has a tendency to be influenced by the sheer number of votes to be caste by the many governments which are not as exacting in their standards at home. There is a bit of a “lowest common denominator” function.
Its strength is setting global standards; its ability to administer/enforce rules which would apply to its members is not as strong. In April 2015, ICAO announced that it had “launched a new website issuing warnings about risks to aircraft in conflict zones, which aims to serve as a single source for up-to-date assessments from States and relevant international organizations to reduce risks to civil aviation arising from armed conflict.” It was dubbed the Conflict Zone Information Repository (CZIR). The press release included 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. Such an admission would fire up a host of problems within its borders (i.e. acknowledging that rebels are such a threat) and on an international basis (i.e. accusing another country that its aggression is real).
ICAO might be able to set standards, but the historic influence of the Assembly Members is likely to “water down” such judgment calls. The recent experience is instructive–with the Tel Aviv rocket, the ban of 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 Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea.
In July, 2016 the ground rules for entries into the CZIR were revised. The new policy was stated in the ICAO announcement:
CZIR postings will now be restricted to information which strictly pertains to conflict zones, and posts will only be made immediately available when the risk information is submitted by the State where the conflict is occurring.
Provision has also been made to continue to permit a State to post conflict zone warnings regarding another State’s sovereign airspace, when there is no disagreement between the submitting State and the implicated State.
States retain the right to post global aviation safety and security risk warnings on their respective national websites, and the ICAO CZIR will now be amended to include links to those individual State pages.
ICAO implicitly, and Mr. Creamer explicitly, recognized that its Members might be reluctant to admit that there was a conflict occurring within its borders. That’s not a very sovereign statement.
There are sites which include reliable, timely warnings. EASA created a similar information resource.
ICAO is an important deliberative body for setting global standards—safety, environmental, Air Traffic, etc. Since its members are also subject to those standards, the UN organization is not as good at compelling compliance by the same Members who constitute the staff’s Board.