Trouble between US and ICAO? 2019 #4

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Once again, there’s trouble brewing (?) in Montreal as one news service reports that the US is withholding its ICAO dues. Our resident expert on the UN Aviation organization, Jim Loos, shares his thoughts on this issue.



U.S. withholds U.N. aviation dues, calls for immediate whistleblower protections


On October 2 2019 Reuters reported that “The United States is withholding its dues to the U.N.’s aviation agency”. That is ICAO. The US position is that the “… body needs to move quickly with reforms like expanding public access to documents and giving greater protection to whistleblowers…”

The United States pays 20.5% of the roughly C$100 million annual budget of the Organization so this decision could be a significant hit to ICAO’s operation. I say could be only because there is no time period stated. Therefore, it could be a month or it could be a year.

The two-week ICAO General Assembly closed on Oct 4. I could not find any statement by the United States in the available draft minutes that indicates the US withholding funds. Nor does the Reuters article indicate other States joining the United States.

Sec of Transportation Chao addressed the opening Plenary session in part she said: (published copy, not necessarily as delivered)

To retain leadership in safety and security, ICAO must also become a leader in effective management and good governance. The U.S. remains concerned by incidents at ICAO that have come to light over the past year. In order for ICAO to continue to attract the best people, and to uphold and advance vital standards, it must have an organizational system that is transparent, fair, and worthy of trust.

We ask you to support the U.S. proposal for “Innovating at ICAO” to improve and modernize the organization. A cooperative reform effort will strengthen ICAO and advance its safety and security goals that are vital to the aviation industry and our global economies

The United States introduced a working paper for the Assembly (A40-WP/423) entitled “Innovating at ICAO to More Effectively Respond to Emerging Issues, Mobilize Resources, and Ensure No Country is Left Behind”. The paper urges improvement on transparency, better decision making, a positive work environment, leveraging partnerships with other stakeholders, and increasing the effectiveness of ICAO. The paper requests action on these items.



The Assembly agreed and directed the Council to continue action on these items.

This discussion contains, no doubt, the core of the United States decision to withhold funding. I do not get a sense of urgency from either paper. No doubt that was taken care of in the corridors.

Withholding funds for any length of time would be a serious blow to the work of ICAO. The US and ICAO both know that. Staff vacancies would go unfilled, audit teams would be limited, regional offices would be restricted in their contact with the States under their responsibility, and so on.

ALPA has issued a statement that says…

”It is crucial that ICAO be able to continue important policy discussions and decisions in order to maintain and improve the level of safety around the globe. ALPA encourages the Administration and ICAO to resolve their issues quickly as many of ICAO’s actions directly impact the airline piloting profession.”


I do not think that the State Department wants to leave ICAO. But we must realize that the current Administration does not hold International Organizations as the most useful of associations. There is a danger that someone, somewhere might see the temporary withdrawal and think that’s a great idea.

If that were to happen it would be a significant blow not only to international aviation, but also to the US aviation industry.

We have withdrawn from ICAO before. The last time it was administrative. We decided to skip most of a year and pay the dues at the end of the year rather than the beginning. They managed but it was tough. Effectively we paid full dues for two of the three years between Assemblies. The year of the Assembly the financial rules said that excess money could be returned to the States. Since most of the excess was ours, we managed to get 25% of our money back and States like Cuba, Russia and China got their share. I think those financial rules have changed.

Remember our knowledge of the withholding of US funding, (at this writing) is based solely on the Reuters article. But the observed problems in ICAO are outlined in several places including Assembly working papers, and other articles. The serious nature of those problems is generally agreed.

It is not clear (to me) as to what extent that likeminded States are joining together to forge an acceptable solution. I assume they are and that a fine-tuned ICAO will result. But timing is critical.

Back when I was a rabble rouser, and the naive New York controllers were trying to form a union we had a meeting with a New York labor lawyer. The one thing I remember from him was that the ultimate weapon we had was a strike. He said never use it because if it doesn’t work you have nothing.

Hopefully this is a short lived crisis.

Mr. Loos, ever the diplomat, might not concur with imputing the US’ withholding of its dues to the motive suggested in the below article [NOTE: there is no attribution to a source for the story, but it appeared on Flight Global]:

FAA urges ICAO to address erosion of ‘manual’ piloting skills

25 September, 2019


BY: Jon Hemmerdinger


The US Federal Aviation Administration is set to urge ICAO to address pilot training deficiencies that may leave some of the world’s airline pilots unprepared to manually fly aircraft when automated systems fail.

Representatives from the agency will bring up their concerns about training shortcomings and a related concept called “automation dependency” during ICAO’s 40th assembly, occurring now in Montreal.

The meeting kicks off as the aviation industry continues grappling with pilot training and automation questions that have simmered for years but became salient following several accidents, including but not limited to recent crashes of two Boeing 737 Max.

Those particular crashes spurred criticism of a Boeing flight control system that contributed to the accidents, but also raised questions about the pilots’ response.

The FAA’s concerns turn on the theory that many pilots lost or never attained adequate manual flying skills because they have come to rely on increasingly complex automated systems designed largely to prevent pilot error in the first place, according to a paper outlining the FAA’s recommendations.

But technological reliance has left some pilots unprepared for emergencies, it says.

“When automation systems do not work as intended or do not work well in the operational situation, pilots without sufficient manual flight control experience and proper training may be reluctant or may not be adequately skilled to take control of the aircraft,” says the paper, available from ICAO.

“As the use of automation increases in aircraft design, it is important to consider how ICAO standards and guidance should evolve to ensure that pilot training programmes align with technological advancements,” it adds.

The paper’s key points will be presented to ICAO’s technical commission by the FAA and representatives of Canada, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago, the paper says.

The FAA has not said the date its representatives will present their concerns.

The agency will ask ICAO to “identify the scope of automation dependency”, identify standards related to manual flying, assess airlines’ training programmes and review the need for new standards, says the paper….

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2 Comments on "Trouble between US and ICAO? 2019 #4"

  1. Take a look at the leadership and council membership and then tell me how much (or how little) influence the USA has in real policy these days. EU – EASA, APAC, and other para-signatory states have much more influence. So where are the other G 20 contributions?

  2. The history of ICAO shows that over time the US has had significant influence in the work of the Organization. We used to have the problems first. That’s not the case anymore. I would not think that means we have no influence. Work is done before items reach ICAO. In a perfect world differences are worked out before Montreal. Its not a perfect world. Influence can be retained with hard work on subjects, consultation, solid engineering etc. But its not a perfect world.

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