POLITICS

ICAO holds high-level safety meeting on tracking of aircraft and flights over conflict zones

02/01/2015 11:56 EST | Updated 04/03/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - The International Civil Aviation Organization will hold a high-level safety meeting this week to look at the global tracking of commercial aircraft and flights over conflict zones.

More than 800 participants are expected to attend the four-day international gathering at ICAO's Montreal headquarters.

The United States, Australia, the Netherlands and Malaysia are sending large delegations to the conference.

ICAO, the UN agency that governs civil aviation, says on its website the conference will review the current situation, look at how to manage aviation safety in the future and study ways to increase regional co-operation.

Emerging safety issues will be discussed Tuesday.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 last March serves as the backdrop. The plane went down while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

The meeting will review an industry report that was the result of a task force set up by the International Air Transport Association following the tragedy.

The report, submitted late last year, noted there are areas of the world where tracking capabilities are limited by interference issues and the lack of communications infrastructure.

The task force came up with a set of performance criteria that include identifying the position of an aircraft at least every 15 minutes.

The vast majority of commercial flights are fully tracked, but there are gaps in certain areas of the world.

IATA, whose 250 member airlines represent almost 85 per cent of all air traffic, notes that more than 100,000 daily flights operate safely around the world.

The ICAO conference will also look at recommendations on how to deal with risks to civil aviation that occur in conflict zones.

Last July, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over a war-torn section of Ukraine.

ICAO acted quickly, setting up a task force of state and industry experts to look at risks to commercial aircraft over conflict zones.

The group met several times in 2014 and in August agreed to set up two pilot projects.

One involves the establishment of a new centralized system that would promptly share information about the risks of operating in conflict zones.

ICAO says a European version of the system has already undergone some preliminary trials.

The other project will explore how the so-called NOTAM system that's already in place could be better used to share urgent and critical information.

NOTAMs are notices issued by government agencies and airport operators to alert pilots to potential hazards along a flight route that could affect safety.

ICAO works with its 191 member states and global aviation organizations to develop international standards and recommended practices.