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Karamjit Kaur
Saturday, Aug 2, 2014

World

Task force to plug aviation security gaps

The Straits Times | Karamjit Kaur | Saturday, Aug 2, 2014

An expert task force being formed to plug security gaps that led to the MH17 crash will have its work cut out, the global aviation community has admitted.

The team, to be set up next week, will focus on how the industry can better gather and disseminate information so airlines are able to assess the risks associated with flying over conflict zones.

However, this will be a challenge, the United Nation's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) said in a joint statement with global groups representing airlines, airports and air traffic service providers.

"We recognise the essential need for information and intelligence that might affect the safety of our passengers and crew," stakeholders said following an urgent industry meeting in Montreal, Canada, on Tuesday.

"This is a highly complex and politically sensitive area of international coordination, involving not only civil aviation regulations and procedures but also state national security and intelligence gathering activities."

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was carrying 298 passengers and crew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17 when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile missile while crossing eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting government forces.

Expressing its "strong condemnation of the use of weapons against civil aviation", the ICAO, together with the International Air Transport Association (Iata), Airports Council International and Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation, said: "The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 is unacceptable."

The Boeing 777 jet was flying through air space that was open to commercial flights at the time.

The current practice is that only countries that have sovereign right over a particular airspace can declare it closed.

When this happens or if there are any other flight restrictions, airlines are kept updated by notices that appear in a common global database.

Governments must play a bigger role in keeping airlines updated on security risks when flying over conflict zones, Iata chief executive and director-general Tony Tyler said.

"They (the countries) have a moral duty... to ensure that innocent people are not put in harm's way... How can they sit back and watch innocent people threatened?"

Airlines need "complete, full, accurate and clear information" to decide whether to fly over or avoid certain areas.

Despite the need for urgent action, both Mr Tyler and ICAO president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu stressed that the current civil aviation system is not broken and travellers need not be alarmed.

The steps being taken are to reassure them, Mr Aliu said.

Once the task force completes its work, its recommendations will be presented to ICAO's 191 member states at a safety conference to be held next February.

Convincing member states of the need to step up vigilance will not be easy. Asked what power ICAO has to compel them, Mr Aliu said: "Not much. We depend on the free will of the states."

karam@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 31, 2014.
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