Fractional operations, flight safety on ICAO agenda

 - December 19, 2007, 11:27 AM

At the ICAO Assembly in Montreal–where all the world’s aviation representatives gathered last month to review outstanding issues–there was general agreement that the lack of uniform international rules for fractional operations should be resolved. The International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) had pointed out to ICAO that the present patchwork of individual, and often quite different, rules in different countries hampered the flexibility and benefit of this rapidly expanding segment of corporate aviation.

However, while some national representatives urged immediate attention to the issue, the majority proposed that an ICAO policy be delayed until the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) completes its study of the question. IBAC director general Don Spruston told AIN, “We were encouraged by the support for our position, and we will continue to work with authorities both in the short and long term to ensure that operators are not disadvantaged.”

Security and environmental protection were important issues at the 10-day assembly. But there were no easy answers to the security question of reducing the threat of Manpads missiles. Citing the massive costs to operators of carrying onboard systems to defeat missiles, IATA and other groups proposed that individual states assume the cost of anti-missile protection.

In response, some national representatives opposed making that a binding commitment, since so far such attacks had occurred only in certain regions. Russia, which recently lost two airliners to suicide-bomber passengers, reported the development of a compound for inclusion in the manufacture of all future explosive material that is 10 times easier to detect than that currently mandated internationally.

ECAC raised the issue of military interceptions of suspected aircraft hijackings; the organization is developing procedures with NATO. These included a recommendation to operators to monitor the civil/military 121.5 MHz VHF emergency frequency. The group was also reported to be reviewing the risks inherent in inadvertent TCAS maneuvers by the suspect aircraft during an intercept. But no final agreement was reached on any of these topics, other than to continue urgent studies.

Environmental protection proved another contentious issue at the assembly. There is now general agreement that aircraft noise can be reasonably managed through a “balanced approach,” which combines engine and airframe development, land-use planning, new arrival and departure procedures and flight restrictions.

But proposed reductions in engine emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), produced several opposing viewpoints. European nations wished to impose charges for non-compliance, IATA proposed an emissions trading scheme similar to the one outlined in the Kyoto protocol, and Russia stated that although NOx was a potential concern requiring further study, there was, insofar as CO2 was concerned, “not one reliable piece of evidence of the influence of ‘greenhouse gases’ on the earth’s climate.”

Possibly more practical proposals came from Australia and IATA, which both stated that improved air traffic management offered better near-term environmental benefits for reducing fuel burn by, among other things, improving upper airspace management and adopting continuous descent procedures. IATA cited as an example one aircraft that, after filing for FL370, was held at FL300 for six hours and consequently burned more than 12,000 pounds of additional fuel. Spruston noted that IBAC had both an environmental issues working group and a joint IBAC/GAMA/NBAA/ CNS/ATM working group following the subject closely, to ensure that any draft legislation would not unfairly affect business aviation.

Plans To Improve Flight Safety
Maintaining and improving flight safety is ICAO’s basic goal, and the organization has a number of continuing programs staffed by approved expert auditors provided by member nations, who assess the safety aspects of various aviation activities, such as security, airport management, flight operations, ATC and so on.

But these separate audits rarely overlap, or interface, with each other. At the assembly, ECAC described a study of a gate-to-gate audit methodology designed to overcome this deficiency. After analyzing 26 accidents, researchers at the Netherlands National Aerospace Laboratory determined that in many cases all the information that could have prevented the accident had been available, but it was not passed on to the correct person at the right time.

The analysis identified 125 safety interface problems surrounding the 26 accidents, for an average of 4.8 problems per accident, leading to the conclusion that interface issues “pose a serious risk to aviation safety.” A follow-up study is planned, in cooperation with the FAA and the Flight Safety Foundation.

While ICAO is an agency of the United Nations, national aviation delegates tend to leave their politics at the door and, although national interests are often apparent during technical discussions, the exchanges never become acrimonious. So it was perhaps encouraging to hear the Islamic Republic of Iran describing its ATC concerns about clearances to climb under self separation in VMC, or to listen to a reasoned review from Cuba on the economic effect on underdeveloped countries of new technologies such as ADS-B, GNSS and CPDLC.