Best of luck to Mr. McMillan in his quest to improve the Security of International Airspace

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The below article announces the appointment of an eminently qualified individual to chair a committee to explore how to avoid repeating the horrors of MH-17. The author does not explore the virtual impossibility of his task.

David McMillan (above photograph), former Director General of Eurocontrol and currently Chairman of the Flight Safety Foundation, has been named to head the ICAO Task Force on airspace security. He was nominated by the Country of Malaysia, a country heavily impacted by the tragedy. That task is well suited to Mr. McMillan’s skills in that he was the executive of a multi-sovereign enterprise which controlled air traffic throughout Europe. That experience should help him understand ICAO’s limitations in attempting to regulate its sovereigns/members.

Aside from the difficulties which ICAO will have assessing the security of the airspace of its Members, the proposition that the intelligence, which is the basis of risk analyses, can be shared is fraught with substantial security conflicts.

Assume, for example, that Country A has a strong basis for believing that Country B is in a state of belligerency, that is, its own forces and/or insurgents within its borders may fire at civilian aircraft which are passing through its airspace. Country B, for whatever reasons, has not declared that its domestic status is so precarious. Under this hypothetical situation, Country A discloses this intelligence to whatever international body, which has airspace security jurisdiction, that the subject airspace should be closed. Country B might assert that the information is wrong or inaccurate and might demand to see the basis for the proposed disclosure. Such transparency, which is the basis for much of the UN governance, would not easily work here.

Another potential real world possibility involves instances in which another tragic shoot down has occurred. How will the international airspace security organization deal with such a failure? Can it determine, to some level of certainty, what country was responsible for the attack or was aware of the risk? What sanction can it impose on the country from which the assault was launched? How would the international organization learn that some country knew of, but failed to disclose the threat?

This is not the usual UN model of cooperating nations trying to reduce illiteracy, hunger, disease or even unsafe civil aviation standards. The essence of this Task Force is to address State, state-sponsored or unaligned attacks. That seems to be a difficult, if not impossible task.

Mr. McMillan has a world of experience and perhaps he can design an organization and accompanying mechanisms which will reduce the likelihood of an MH-17 or KAL-007 tragedy.

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