This year’s international civil aviation day has the theme “Assistance and Cooperation for Globally Sustainable Air Transport”. The message is that, if aviation is to continue contributing to the world, it has to be globally sustainable.
l by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne
(December 07, Quebec, Sri Lanka Guardian) International Civil Aviation Day falls on 7 December every year. It was established in 1994 by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – an international body of the United Nations created on 7 December 1944 which guides and regulates international civil aviation. This recognition came through an Assembly Resolution adopted in 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Organization. ICAO, in 1996, with the assistance of the Canadian Government, succeeded in obtaining international recognition for this day, when the United Nations General Assembly by Resolution officially recognized 7 December as International Civil Aviation Day and listed it as an official UN day. The purpose of the global celebration is to generate and reinforce worldwide awareness of the importance of international civil aviation in the social and economic development of States, and of the role of ICAO in promoting the safety, efficiency and regularity of international air transport.
From November 1 to December 7 1944, 52 nations assembled at the International Civil Aviation Conference in Chicago, Illinois on the invitation of President Roosevelt. The Conference was convened at the last stages of World War II. President Roosevelt’s invitation to the nations of the World said: “I do not believe that the world of today can afford to wait several years for its air communications. There is no reason why it should… As we begin to write a new chapter in the fundamental law of the air, let us all remember that we are engaged in a great attempt to build enduring institutions of peace. These peace settlements cannot be endangered by petty considerations, or weakened by groundless fears. Rather, with full recognition of the sovereignty and juridical equality of all nations, let us work together so that the air may be used by humanity, to serve humanity”.
The Chicago Conference resulted in the adoption of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, which was signed on 7 December 1944. The Preamble to the Convention carries the same message of peace enunciated by President Roosevelt:
“WHEREAS the future development of international civil aviation can greatly help to create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world, yet its abuse can become a threat to the general security;
WHEREAS it is desirable to avoid friction and to promote that cooperation between nations and peoples upon which the peace of the world depends;
THEREFORE, the undersigned governments having agreed on certain principles and arrangements in order that international civil aviation may be developed in a safe and orderly manner and that international air transport services may be established on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically; Have accordingly concluded this Convention to that end”.
The Chicago Convention stands out as an international treaty carved out in the early years of international comity after World War 2. Its vision still endures. 67 years after the historic treaty was signed we can not only look back in pride at the development of air transport and its contribution to the world, but we can also look forward in the hope that generations to come will benefit from this phenomenon of peace.
Civil aviation eschews war and conflict. In 1989 after KoreanAir flight 007 – a civilian flight – was shot down, the Chicago Convention was given a new provision by the International; Community: It says: “the Contracting States recognize that every State must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight and that, in case of interception, the lives of persons on board and the safety of aircraft must not be endangered”.
There is at least one instance where ICAO has, outside its scope of civil aviation, addressed issues of global peace. At its 17th Assembly in 1970/71 the ICAO Assembly adopted a Resolution condemning Apartheid in South Africa based on the Preamble to the Chicago Convention. Aviation and peace are glued by the practice of diplomacy, which ICAO has had to employ to resolve ongoing as well as potential disputes. From the inception of regulated civil aviation in 1944, diplomacy has been inextricable from policy making and dispute settlement in affairs of aviation. Varied and chronologically sequential instances where ICAO has been requested by its Member States to address contentious issues relating to civil aviation are reflective of the importance of political considerations that underlie such disputes. Although political contentions may exist between States, which is a natural corollary of Statecraft and international politics, it is not the purview of an international organization to address political motivations of individual States when considering issues referred to it or adjudicating disputes between States. In this regard, the International Civil Aviation Organization has tread a delicate line between diplomacy and objectivity.
On July 27, 2011, a flight bringing first aid to famine stricken Somalia landed in Mogadishu. It carried 10 tonnes of plumpy nuts – enough to offer 3500 children suffering from starvation a respite from death. The operation of relief flights, either by States or such bodies as the United Nations, to alleviate human suffering in times of war, natural or manmade catastrophe, is yet another area in which the role of civil aviation is brought to bear in securing peace and security.
The earthquake which devastated the capital of Haiti and much of its environs in January 2010, crippled the Haitian government and infrastructure, rendering government authorities weak in the running of the country. From an aeronautical perspective, this brought to bear issues of sovereignty within the parameters of relief flights and humanitarian law. Another devastation which was unique to the earthquake was that although the only runway at the airport was undamaged, the rest of the aviation infrastructure lay in a shambles. The flow of the numerous relief flights that came into Haiti after the fact was therefore managed with caution and diligence.
Commercial aviation amounts to 6% of the world’s gross domestic product and provides 32 million jobs around the world. Airlines of the world carried 2.2 billion persons in 2010. They have to ensure that all on board are safe from terrorists in extreme circumstances and unruly and disruptive passengers at the minimal level. This is indeed a delicate balance.
The air transport industry is full of paradoxes. On the one hand, air transport contributes 10% of the world GDP and employs approximately 80 million people worldwide. Yet, over the decade 1999-2009 the industry lost $56 billion. Given that over that period there were 20 billion passengers carried by air, the industry lost $2.8 per passenger on average. The paradox is that despite, this long history of loss, Airbus Industrie forecasts that between 2009 and 2028 there will be a demand for 24,951 passenger and freighter aircraft worth USD 3.1 trillion, and that, by 2028 there will be 32,000 aircraft in service compared with 15,750 in 2009. Another paradox is the open skies concept. On the one hand, progressive thinking favours liberalization of air transport through open skies, which means that air transport must be treated like any other business and should not have market access barriers. On the other hand, airport capacity is finite and a massive injection of capacity will be a severe drain on the process of slot-allocation.
Air transport has been, and continues to be, a complex business. It follows therefore, that transactions related to this industry are indeed complex and should be adaptable to modern exigencies. A survey of IATA carried out in 2007 of over 600 companies from 5 countries reflects that 63% confirmed that air transport networks are vital for their investments and business. 30% of those countries said that any constraint placed on the air transport industry would make them invest less.
Air transport plays an integral part in the tourism industry where 40% of international tourists travel by air.. This fact underscores the indispensability of air transport to the global economy on the one hand and the resilience of the industry to resuscitate itself after slow periods of growth followed by periods of losses.
This year’s international civil aviation day has the theme “Assistance and Cooperation for Globally Sustainable Air Transport”. The message is that, if aviation is to continue contributing to the world, it has to be globally sustainable. To be globally sustainable, aviation has to address the strategic issues that affect air transport. Currently, and arguably throughout the 21st Century, along with new issues that might emerge in air transport, there are three strategic issues that will continue to apply to air transport: safety; security; environmental protection and sustainable development of air transport. These can be effectively addressed only if the key players in the aviation industry i.e. the airlines; airports; air navigation services providers; manufacturers; and the regulators work together.
So far, it has been a smooth ride and there is no reason for one to believe otherwise for the future.
The author is Senior Legal Officer at the International Civil Aviation Organization