Global airlines will push to get “neutral information” on whether to use or avoid airspace over conflict zones at Tuesday’s meeting of the U.N. aviation agency and other airline bodies, a European-based airline industry source said.
The U.N. agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has invited the heads of the airline industry, airports and the world’s air traffic control networks to the Montreal meeting to discuss what needs to be changed to ensure that airliners are flying in secure airspace after the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine on July 17 took 298 lives.
The meeting is likely to hear calls for wider international powers to intervene when a country fails to monitor threats to its airspace. The Malaysia Airlines crash occurred after Ukraine left open air corridors that lay within the range of the missile blamed for destroying the jet.
ICAO currently has a limited role and cannot open or close airspace. It issued an advisory this year, warning of a jurisdictional risk posed by two sets of air traffic controllers directing traffic over the Crimea region.
Enhancing ICAO’s role to give it the authority to tell airlines where to fly, or to tell its members what to do with their airspace, would test rules that dates back to World War One peace agreements and are enshrined in ICAO’s founding charter.
It would also require the agency to obtain sensitive information from its member states about their internal military and political affairs.
Diplomats say any attempt to tamper with the sovereignty of airspace could set broader precedents that make quick results unlikely. The United States has already said it is not seeking changes to ICAO’s guidelines.
But governments may not be eager to share sensitive military intelligence, and singling out particular regions could anger some states.
“Where ICAO has success is where they keep out of politics, as much as possible,” said David Mackenzie, a Canadian professor who has written a history of the U.N. agency.
Even if there is a consensus in favor of expanding ICAO’s role in some way, it may not last.
“When there are challenges, people want ICAO to get involved,” said a second council representative. “But when we are further away from problems, the states would like ICAO to go away.”