Today’s Journal Post is contributed by a leading expert of international aviation. Jim Loos checked off all of the requisite boxes to speak with authority on this subject- worked the JFK tower and scopes at the NYC IFR, then onto Washington, Montreal, Brussels and back to the ICAO headquarters. Jim’s knowledge of the maze of international rules made him a “go to” guy on how the global system of aviation safety has standards which reach all of the world’s civil aviation authorities. His insights should provide greater understanding why this UN organization should receive the US’s dues.
The Department of State is under siege. The Administration has moved to reduce the staff significantly and cut the overall budget, especially in areas involving the United Nations. So far, the affiliated organizations of the United Nations have avoided the knife, however I believe the aviation industry should be prepared to defend those UN organizations vital to the industry. Chief among these is the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The Department of State’s draft proposal for its 2017-2018 budget says inter alia:
The FY 2018 Request proposes to reduce funding for the UN and affiliated agencies as well as other international programs and organizations that do not substantially advance US foreign policy interest, fail to demonstrate effectiveness and transparency, and/or for which the funding burden is not fairly shared amongst members. The FY 2018 Request sets the expectation that these organizations rein in costs and the funding burden be shared more fairly among member states.
Words like these that threaten to reduce funding for UN affiliated organizations have been standard for as long as I have been involved with the ICAO.
ICAO is a descendant of the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN), which was formalized in 1922 and was affiliated with the League of Nations. The United States was not a member of the League of Nations and therefore not a member of ICAN.
ICAN was a creation evolving from World War I. ICAO was largely the product of the United States and World War II. As early as 1943 President Roosevelt began to develop his vision for the postwar world order which led to a series of conferences before the war ended. It included:
… what became the United Nations (at Dumbarton Oaks [left]), for world finance (at Bretton Woods), for food and agriculture (at Hot Springs), for relief and rehabilitation (in Washington), and for civil aviation (in Chicago).“ “Diplomacy“; by Henry Kissinger; Simon & Schuster, New York; Pg. 405
The civil aviation piece, the Chicago Conference, convened on November 1, 1944 and resulted in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The Conference was considered a failure by some because it did not produce a market based air transport regime. But it did result in an effective, largely technical organization with the objective of developing international safety and equipment standards for the rapidly growing international aviation industry.
New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, a member of the US delegation, explained that success by noting that “Everyone is against bad weather.” Later I became familiar with him when he read me the Sunday comics on the radio during a newspaper strike. A man of many talents.
The current DOS budget request notes that the dues assessment to be paid by the FY 2018 budget is for the ICAO 2017 budget year and has already been assessed by the Organization at the 38th Assembly and that we have a Treaty obligation to pay it.
ICAO was and continues to be an Organization that serves US citizens by providing them with a level of safety no matter where in the world they travel by air, for business or pleasure. In doing so it also provides a forum for the United States to gain acceptance for equipment and procedures deemed necessary for international traffic using US airspace (such as GPS and TCAS, we were a little slow on the latter).
The idea that international organizations should reduce their funding requests and/or that the percentage of the budget assessed to the United States should be reduced has been the United States position for as long as I can remember. Years ago, the US was assessed 30% or more of the ICAO budget. For most of my involvement it was 25%. Today it is 20%.
For many years the United States paid its dues early in January. One particularly tight US budget year, the US payment was delayed until the end of the calendar year. A significant move when you consider it was 25% of the budget. All the more significant to the USG when you note that the USG actually skipped a US fiscal year. The US fiscal year is Oct 1 to Sept 30. The ICAO fiscal year is Jan 1 to Dec 31. Do the math.
One year, When I was on the ICAO Air Navigation Commission, I happened to be the only one in the office on Dec 31 (or whatever the last working day of the year was) when the assessment check arrived. I called down to the ICAO finance office to tell them I was coming down. For about 10 seconds I was the most popular guy in the building, the ten seconds it took them to get an elevator down to the bank in the lobby. (Well that’s an exaggeration. You could never get an elevation in ten seconds in the ICAO building. They had a well-established tradition of slow elevators.)
For at least a couple of Assemblies ICAO’s financial rules served to make the situation worse in that any surplus funds in hand at the end of the three-year period between Assemblies, was redistributed to the member States. Since our end of year checks provided much of that surplus we only got 25% of our own money back, with the rest going to the other member States. Not good planning. I believe that problem has been taken care of with the Organization using the surplus for other useful projects.
The FAA has been supportive of the ICAO technical budget proposal. For example, the development of the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Program (USOAP), based on the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Program, and a similar program in the security area, were strongly supported by the FAA and the Department of State. That is not to say that the US went to the Assembly supporting the ICAO entire budget proposal. We joined with other developed States to reduce as many budget numbers as possible.
So how does ICAO conform to the criteria set in the proposed DOS budget.
…advance US foreign policy objectives – US citizens travel extensively, both for business and pleasure. It is in our interest to ensure they do so in a safe environment. It is our interest that there is a safe aviation system around the world which then provides a market for our biggest single export, airplanes, and avionics. It is in our interest that foreign carriers entering the United States conform to ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices. The ICAO safety oversight program and the security audit program are especially valuable.
…demonstrate effectiveness and transparency – ICAO, through its standards and recommended practices has provided the basic material for good operating procedures for most of the member States of the Organization. Aviation safety has significantly improved over the last several years, contributing to an aviation market for Boeing aircraft and US manufactured avionics, not to mention a substantial tourist business.
In my experience, transparency is not an issue in ICAO.
…funding burden shared equally amongst members – As mentioned above, the US assessment has decreased at least 10% over the last 30 years or more. The assessment is based on a formula which determines the States that are most Important in the aviation industry.
ICAO Standards provide the necessary baseline for the evaluation of States both for the FAA’s IASA program and Aviation security inspections, which parallel the ICAO programs.
ICAO staff have often played the role of honest broker when impediments to the free flow of aviation traffic has threatened. For example, after the fall of Saigon cast doubt on the safety of flying over Vietnam, ICAO negotiated a temporary airspace realignment that allowed flights to continue avoiding Vietnam airspace. When Yugoslavia broke into warring pieces ICAO negotiated the safe flight of UN aircraft and other official flights in the area.
The ICAO Council has investigated and decided on such major incidents as the shootdown of KAL 007, the Vincennes shootdown and the Shootdown in Cuban airspace of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft, in a fair and just manner.
I am not aware any major ICAO program where the Unites States failed in gaining acceptance of the US position. This includes acceptance of the VOR, DME, ILS, MLS (yes, I know, but it was a hard fought battle in ICAO and the US was successful), TCAS and GPS. Such successes have benefited our airlines, our citizens flying around the world, our aircraft manufacturers and our avionics manufacturers.
It is not clear that we will maintain our advantage. In the past, the growth of our air traffic often outpaced that of the rest of the world and necessitated our advances in air navigation equipment, procedures etc. before the rest of the world needed to. Today many areas of the world experience significant traffic loads. Many areas of the world have the expertise to develop air navigation equipment, procedures, etc., especially our colleagues in Europe. There is the growing trend to privatize ATC organizations which might (sorry, I’m a Fed at heart, can’t go further than might) change the dynamic.
This is not the time to cut back on our effort and our influence on international aviation. It is not the time to reduce our financial support.
At the opening of the Chicago Conference Adolphe Berle read a welcoming statement from President Roosevelt:
Some centuries ago, an attempt was made to build great empires based on the domination of great sea areas. The lords of these areas tried to close these seas to some, and to offer access to others, and thereby to enrich themselves and extend their power….We do not need to make that mistake again. I hope you will not dally with the thought of creating great blocks of closed air, thereby tracing in the sky conditions of future wars. I know that you will see to it that the air which God gave to everyone shall not become the domination over anyone. – Welcoming message from President Roosevelt, read to the Opening Plenary of the Chicago Conference, Nov. 1, 1944
Through the Conference, ICAO and many other contributing factors aviation came close. Let’s not quit now.
Share this article: