ICAO should examine Airspace Safety Threats, but its history does not suggest that it is the best candidate to become the International Judge

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The International Civil Aviation Organization (picture is to the left) is a United Nations governmental body. Its strength is setting global standards; its ability to administer rules which would apply to its members is not as strong. The ↓ below article suggests that ICAO is considering responses to the MH -17 tragedy. One proposal would be for this organization to issue warnings about airspace in which there is a threat to such aircraft. That is probably a function which ICAO should not assume.

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.

It is instructive to examine an example to demonstrate the dichotomy alluded to above. This UN body has agreed upon a set of minimum standards, the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme, which define what a civil aviation authority must meet to be considered competent to meet its aviation safety duties. However, ICAO also “enforces” those standards by sending a team of its staff to evaluate its members. The results are displayed in an annual table. The level of stringency (or lack thereof) of those inspections can be inferred by the fact that both EASA and the FAA perform exactly the same audits. Obviously neither has great trust in the ICAO scrutiny. Good standard, less excellent inspection.

The same dilemma can be forecast as to advising airlines not to fly though airspace which is subject to threats. 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 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 can and should discuss these threats and may even contribute the definition of an unacceptable threat. Its past suggests that this UN agency is not really able to make the hard calls which negatively impact its Members.

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