QATAR-UAE airspace dispute
Jim Loos Interprets
The JDA Journal has been following airspace issues among the Arab Peninsula Countries over airspace being considered by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
- 4 Arab countries cut off flights to/from Qatar over “terrorism”; no US action yet
- How the Airspace Corridors came to be established- the penumbra of ICAO
- Arab Countries go to ICAO for resolution of AT dispute- judgment unlikely
The language and processes of all diplomatic debates are abstruse and arcane. Every meeting of this UN organization is translated by four interpreters, but that transmission only provides the literal meaning. Experts are the only source to provide the real meaning behind the nuances, historical references/precedents, the jargon of these highly trained professionals and the intricacies of international law.
A frequent contributor to this site is Jim Loosand as one well-schooled in diplo-speak, ICAO’s rules and the history of civil aviation, he is eminently qualified to provide insight into the current controversy between the State of Qatar (دولة قطر) and the United Arabic Republic ( دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة)
Insight into ICAO’s role in the dispute between QATAR AND THE UAE
By Jim Loos
On May 23, the JDA Journal posted an article on an incident(s) between a UAE airliner and a Qatar military jet in which it was claimed that the military jet came to about 200 meters from the commercial jet. The UAE protested to ICAO.
I don’t know any more detail on the matter, which clearly qualifies me to talk about It, in my defense I will say that I have a little experience on hostile acts in international airspace.
The question is can ICAO and the ICAO Council, an Organization that seems to have very little enforcement power, perform a useful service in matters such as these?
First, we confirm that the Chicago Convention has no jurisdiction over State aircraft and a military jet is a State aircraft. However, there is a provision that requires the State of the operator to ensure the safety of civil aircraft. That is why ICAO can develop a set of intercept procedures for use by military aircraft with a reasonable expectation that the procedures will be followed.
Now let me speculate on how ICAO might have handled the current problem between Qatar and its neighbors.
When airspace restrictions were put on aircraft to/from Qatar, ICAO no doubt got interested. The first point of action would probably have been the ICAO Cairo Regional Office with the Regional Director assessing the situation and gaining as much info as possible. I recall my friend Chris Eigl, who was then Regional Director for Europe, did a great deal of work ensuring the safety of flight in and around Yugoslavia when that country exploded into war. And when Vietnam fell the Asian Office coordinated and established routes around that airspace until the country stabilized and again assumed the responsibility.
If a higher level of involvement is called for, in my day ICAO would have sent Dr. Kotaite, President of the Council. He was considered the senior person in the Organization and he was extremely good at working problems toward an acceptable compromise and leaving both parties with the feeling they won the argument.
Two or three times he handled Cuban complaints against the United States. We were reluctant (to say the least) to let the Cubans fly direct to Montreal from Havana which would have taken them over the United States and near sensitive military areas. This restriction appeared to be a violation of the Convention, at least in spirit. We used the national security provisions.
Dr Kotaite almost always settled the matter before it reached the Council. That was his objective, he knew it would be better for all concerned to settle matters at a low level.
That brings us back to Qatar/UAE problem. The complaint reached the Council. So, what can the Council do?
On the face of it not much. They can penalize the State by taking away its voting rights. Given that at least 75% of ICAO decisions are made by consensus and no vote is taken, this penalty is more status than anything else. Several years ago, Yugoslavia was voted out of the ICAO Assembly and its membership suspended in reaction to the war. However, this was a action initiated by the United Nations in New York.
In serious matters the question does usually go direct to the Council. I believe States take these matters seriously and do not want to be declared in the wrong by the international aviation community.
With the KAL 007 matter the United States and its allies were able to get a resolution “DEEPLY DEPORING the destruction of an aircraft in commercial international services resulting in the loss of 269 innocent lives” at a Council meeting a few weeks after the incident. The Council also directed the secretariat to conduct an investigation and report back to the Council.
When the Council met a second time to consider the ICAO investigation and report on the matter it was clear to the US Delegation that the USSR did not want a second unfavorable resolution and that US/USSR relations might suffer if there was such a resolution. We pressed for the resolution anyway and succeeded. The second Resolution read in part:
CONDEMNS the use of armed force which resulted in the destruction of the Korean airliner and the tragic loss of269 lives;
To be the subject of an ICAO Council Resolution condemning your action means something to the offending State. We certainly tried to avoid a negative discussion in the Cuban overflight matters (not that we were an offending State).
My examples are dated only because I am dated. My point is only that as long as ICAO can maintain its largely apolitical, nonpartisan status, it will continue to serve an extremely valuable service to the flying public.
I suggest that the Council discussion on this matter performed a valuable service. It allowed each State to get its position on the table and both seemed satisfied that that they got a fair hearing. I think/hope they will use caution in the future and stay within international standards and practices.
That’s what ICAO is there for after all.
 James Loos, Member of the ICAO Air Navigation Commission nominated by the United States (1994-1997). Jim Loos began his FAA career as a controller in Kennedy Tower and subsequently moved to the New York Common IFR Room when that facility opened in 1968. After three years as an instructor at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City he moved to Washington, D.C. to work in the Office of International Aviation. He attended his first ICAO meeting, the tenth meeting of the North Atlantic Systems Planning Group, in 1974. His positions since then have included Special Assistant to the Associate Administrator for Air Traffic, Manager of the Accident and Incident Division in the Air Traffic Service, and Chief of the Air Traffic Staff in the FAA’s Brussels Office. In 1994 he was nominated by the U.S. Government to be a Member of the ICAO Air Navigation Commission, assuming that position in October 1994. From October 1994 to November 1997 he was also the Deputy U.S. Representative to ICAO. Jim left Montreal in November 1997 and retired from the FAA in January 1998.
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