September 26, 2014 / 7:24 PM / in 3 years

U.N. aviation task force only using public info in conflict project

MONTREAL (Reuters) - A U.N. aviation agency task force, developing pilot programs to help airlines and states assess risks above conflict zones, will focus on information that is already public, and not confidential intelligence, its chair said.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) task force was set up following industry demands for neutral and authoritative information on risks to airliners after a Malaysian plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July, killing 298 people.

Without confidential information, it is not clear how much useful guidance the task force’s programs can offer airlines.

“The pilot projects are looking at what is available already in the public domain,” David McMillan, who heads the ICAO task force and is also chair of the U.S.-based Flight Safety Foundation, said in an interview this week.

“They are looking at things like what weapons are deployed in conflict zones.”

Industry experts question whether the task force can convince governments from ICAO’s 191 member states to share sensitive military intelligence.

Such information would be key for airlines given ICAO does not issue specific guidance on where missiles might threaten civil aircraft and is not authorized to open or close air space. Assuaging concerns about who would handle any intelligence are among the issues the ICAO task force is grappling with.

McMillan said the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 240 airlines, has been touted as a possible central clearing house to disseminate information to airlines.

“You have to have this driven through an organization with 24/7 capabilities,” McMillan told Reuters. “IATA is part of an industry coalition involved in this work.”

IATA director general Tony Tyler, speaking at a Montreal conference, said the airline trade association would only share “correct and clear” information that had been properly vetted.

“I would be happy for IATA to do it providing we can do it with a high degree of quality,” Tyler told the American Bar Association’s forum on air and space law. “The last thing I want IATA to become is a kind of institutionalized rumor-monger.”

The U.N. task force is developing two pilot projects to bolster information sharing through the creation of a centralized framework and by enhancing the existing Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) system. 

McMillan said the pilot projects are already underway, with the participation of regional air traffic authorities like the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Eurocontrol.

Current regional efforts to raise warnings about the presence of weapons like surface to air missiles in combat zones could later combine to form a single system, said McMillan, who is also chair of the U.S.-based Flight Safety Foundation

The task force’s recommendations are subject to approval by ICAO’s governing council, which meets in late October.

Friends and family of German victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 downed over Ukraine plan to sue the country and its president for manslaughter by negligence in 298 cases, the lawyer representing them said on Sunday. [ID:nL6N0RM03H

Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Amran Abocar and Andrew Hay

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