ICAO to institute mandatory aviation security audits
International organization attempts to restore public confidence in air travel

Reeling from lagging public confidence in the aviation industry, 154 International Civil Aviation Organization member countries voted to beef up security measures and to institute mandatory audits, in what has been called a "historic" agreement reached at a high-level ministerial conference in Montreal this February.

The aviation security audits will mandatory, systemized and harmonized, and will evaluate security in place at all contracting states at national level, and on a sample basis, at the airport level for each state under the ICAO Aviation Security mechanism.

The audits, which will be conducted along the lines of existing ICAO safety audits, are crucial. Although ICAO security procedures had been beefed up as a result of the 9-11 events, with more to come, there was no guarantee that individual member states would actually adhere to the new requirements.

As a result of the new declaration, states with lax security measures risk being exposed before the international community, which could jeopardize air traffic into their countries.

The changes could not have come at a better time. According to ICAO figures, operating losses among scheduled airliners will come in at more than $10 billion in 2001, despite massive government financial assistance in many countries, in addition to about 120,000 layoffs worldwide.

But the damage isn't limited to airlines, and the aerospace sector. These industries are key economic segments whose influence spreads throughout the economy. The free movement of people and services is a key lubricant of the international commerce, and travel slowdowns have affected almost all sectors in one way or another. Unfortunately, according to ICAO estimates, air travel is unlikely to return to pre 9-11 growth levels for at least another year or two.

"Restoring confidence in the international air transportation system is the key to improving economic conditions," said U.S. Transportation Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson to the assembled delegates. "September 11th proved that no nation is invulnerable to terrorism. It's only a matter of time before terrorists find way to exploit the international system in lethal ways."

According to Jackson, ICAO priorities should center on strengthening cockpit doors to prevent hijackings, enabling flight crews to prevent unlawful interference, and the creation of a universal harmonized and mandatory audit program for aviation security under the ICAO's AVSEC mechanism. Commitments to addressing all these issues were included in the summit's closing declaration.

Although the conference was international in scope, the shadow of the U.S. loomed, notably due to that county's particular security requirements in the wake of 9-11.

Prior to 9-11, acts of unlawful interference were on a strong long-term downtrend worldwide. In fact deaths resulting from 9-11 alone, were greater than those resulting from all other cases of unlawful interference with aviation travel in the rest of the world for the last 20 years.

The trouble is that in a post Cold War, era, the U.S. has made a lot of enemies. During the last 20 years, in its self-appointed capacity as World Cop, the U.S. has launched military strikes, invasions, occupations and missile attacks against more than a dozen countries. In addition it continues to finance numerous corrupt and expansionist regimes throughout the world.

The multiplicity of potential enemies makes it difficult for U.S. security experts to figure out where the next threat could come from. Many U.S. attacks and missile strikes have been in small countries that few Americans could locate on the map, leaving the public largely unaware of the complexity of possible dangers.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that security holes are difficult to identify to begin with. It's an old saying that armies are always fighting the last war. A quick look at conference working papers shows that this risks happening in airline security as well.

Among the emerging threats identified by the conference, the three first ones listed relate to suicide attacks either on board aircraft or at ground facilities. However future threats could also come in the form of electronic attacks using radio transmitters to jam ground to air communications or guidance systems, or computer, chemical, biological or nuclear attacks against ground facilities.

While the U.S. faces greater threat to its aviation industry than any other country, ironically, it is the rest of the world that will contribute the bulk of the U.S. $17 million in funding required to keep the security audits going over the next three years.

According to one ICAO official the European Union has pledged to contribute 30% of the project's cost. But the U.S. contribution total is not being disclosed until program details have been finalized, although it is expected to be "substantial."

The big danger for the U.S. is that other countries, who either are not as threatened by global terrorism as the U.S., or who do not have the resources to ensure internal security will let their guards down.

This threat is implicitly recognized in the conference's final declaration, which states that a uniform approach to global security is needed and that "deficiencies in any part of the system constitute a threat to the entire global system."

But despite the triumphal noises emerging from the summit, it is clear that the U.S. has no intention of relying exclusively on international arrangements to ensure aviation industry security.

"In addition to the U.S. support for the ICAO aviation security mechanism, we will strengthen our funding efforts for international agreements bilaterally and through regional mechanisms," said Jackson.

One big problem the U.S. has with ICAO's proposed actions is the organization's prohibition against security measures implemented in a manner that is objective and non-discriminatory on the basis of gender, race, religion and nationality.

The U.S. is unlikely to put up with these restrictions, especially those on racial profiling, as demonstrated by the mass arrests and interrogation of Arabs in the wake of 9-11, and the continued emphasis on security checks on middle-eastern travelers.

The ICAO conference also voted on the establishment of a comprehensive aviation security plan of action to develop details of the audit program. This plan would also include the identification, analysis and development of an effective global response to new and emerging threats, the integration timely measures to be taken in specific fields including the airports, aircraft and air traffic control systems.

But due the huge damage to the aviation industry, whether these measures will be enough to boost public confidence in air travel remains uncertain is best.



Peter Diekmeyer's E-mail address is Peter@peterdiekmeyer.com


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