September 30, 2014 / 8:35 PM / in 3 years

Eurocontrol seeks more info sharing for airspace safety

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Europe’s air-traffic control organization on Tuesday fleshed out a plan for countries to share non-public intelligence in conflict zones to help airlines avert tragedies such as the one that claimed 298 lives over Ukraine in July.

College students gather around candles forming the shape of an airplane, during a candlelight vigil for victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, at a university in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province July 19, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Frank Brenner, director general of Eurocontrol, told Reuters that his organization is pressing the task force of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations aviation agency, for member states to share the background information they use in assessing airspace risk.

“What we advocate for is that states in the first place declare their readiness to exchange that information,” Brenner said on the sidelines of an industry conference.

Currently, states use their own respective intelligence to decide whether airspace is safe, but only publish their conclusions.

“The background information that led to that decision of the states, why they think the airspace is safe, that hasn’t been shared in the past,” he said.

“So our push in ICAO is we want the states in the first place to exchange that information.”

ICAO set up a task force on information sharing amid industry calls for neutral and authoritative information on risks to airliners after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July.

“We have seen that in MH17, nothing was possible because nobody knew what intelligence Ukraine had at that time and how they came to their conclusion that it’s safe to fly,” Brenner said.

The ICAO task force is expected to come up with plans early next year, and its initial pilot programs are considering information that is already in the public domain, task force chairman David McMillan said last week.

The drive in Europe for better coordination of aviation intelligence has been spearheaded so far by the region’s safety regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). But it remains unclear which of the region’s multiple agencies would be responsible for running such a system.

Patrick Ky, head of EASA, told the European Parliament this month that the European Union’s 28 member countries should set up an alert system to process sensitive data and issue warnings to airlines.

Ky has begun talks with EU military representatives over how such a system would work in practice, officials say.

Brenner said any intelligence sharing would be organized on a regional basis and would then be shared between regions as needed. He cited as an example Israel sharing its safety assessment of Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv following rocket strikes from Gaza in July.

Background information used in risk assessments could be shared quickly using a similar structure to the so-called notice to airmen, or NOTAM, Brenner said. But it would not be made public.

There is “a very fine line to walk” in how much can be revealed, Brenner said. But knowing the basis of a NOTAM decision would allow other countries to see if there is a solid safety case. If not, others could question it.

Reporting by Alwyn Scott, additional reporting by Tim Hepher, editing by G Crosse

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