ICAO’s two-week Assembly in Montreal in late September/early October covered much new ground as senior representatives from the world’s nations got to grips with the challenges civil aviation faces as it transitions to a still unfolding advanced-technology environment. But in doing so, the triennial assembly also had to maintain a balance between adopting new concepts, such as the U.S.’s NextGen, while ensuring that developing nations are not disadvantaged, nor international aviation movements hindered.
Besides national delegates, the assembly also included a wide range of nongovernment observers, such as the International Business Aviation Council, Eurocontrol, the International Air Transport Association and several other organizations, all of which could submit working papers covering issues they wished to have discussed in separate executive, finance, legal and technical sessions. Flight operations and ATC technology generally fell under the technical sessions, where almost 350 working papers were submitted.
As it happens, ICAO has little legislative power, and issues are resolved by general consensus among member nations before being promulgated as standards and recommended practices (Sarps) or procedures for air navigation services (Pans). However, individual nations can opt, for accepted reasons, not to adopt specific aspects of either.
Over the years the FAA has filed many such “declared differences,” as they are called, retaining, for example, minor details of Terps versus those in ICAO Sarps. But equally, the FAA has brought many of its legacy practices into line with ICAO standards, as in its recent changes in runway entry procedures. Also, each nation has just one vote on ICAO decisions, regardless of its size and its aviation muscle.
Air Traffic Management
Probably the most pressing issue before the assembly was that of assisting less technically advanced–and in some cases cash-strapped–nations to bring their air traffic management (ATM) capabilities up to those planned for NextGen and Europe’s Sesar equivalent.
Fortunately, the world’s future ATM system will be firmly wedded to GPS and developing global satellite systems such as Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s Glonass and China’s Compass. These, in addition to their national or regional Waas equivalents, will greatly reduce the capital investment that countries would otherwise need for ground-based infrastructures. In turn, this will facilitate the early introduction of performance-based techniques such as Rnav, RNP, ADS-B and trajectory-based operations.
Similarly, the development, pioneering work and operational experience of the U.S. and Europe in these technologies will allow their much faster and almost seamless introduction elsewhere, benefiting individual nations and enhancing international flight operations.
Another key concern of the assembly was runway safety. ICAO stated earlier this year that, “Runway safety continues to be one of aviation’s greatest challenges,” adding that there has been no significant reduction in worldwide runway excursions over the past 20 years. In fact, worldwide data show that runway excursions are the highest single accident occurrence category for all fixed-wing commercial and general aviation aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds.
Excursions are predominantly runway overruns and their numbers greatly exceed those of runway incursions where aircraft collide with other aircraft or vehicles. Over a recent 10-year period, the number of excursion fatalities greatly exceeded those of incursions. But conversely, the fatality rate across the much fewer incursion accidents was much higher than that for excursions.
The assembly recommended a number of steps to reduce these threats in three separate areas. For excursions, it called for increases in runway end safety areas; runway friction measurements and surface condition assessments; greater emphasis on stabilized approaches; standardization of visual aids; and the use of the ICAO/IATA runway incursion risk reduction toolkit.
For incursions, the recommendations included greater adherence to existing Sarps, Pans and other guidance material; the use of appropriate ATC procedures and technologies such as advanced surface movement and guidance control with surface movement radar, ADS-B and multilateration, plus standardized controller-pilot-vehicle driver communications and terminology.
The third area covered general improvements, including increased inspections of runways and movement areas for foreign object debris (FOD) and the development of guidance in the use of automatic FOD detection systems; reduction of bird strikes and other wildlife hazards; and development in the use of the new performance level-C foam in crash rescue and fire fighting.
Emissions were another important issue, with the assembly endorsing an annual average 2-percent fuel-efficiency improvement to achieve a 50-percent reduction from 2005 emissions levels by 2050. Europe plans to implement its legislation in 2012. But issues of applicability to non-European aircraft and exceptions for certain operations abound. In addition, part of the reduction will result from more efficient ATC methods, particularly continuous descent procedures, making the eventual regulatory fine print hard to accurately predict, according to IBAC’s Peter Ingleton, who has been monitoring environmental issues for several years.
A wide range of less pressing topics were also covered by assembly delegates, both formally and informally. Several working papers discussed the transition from today’s paper-based aeronautical information to the future digitally transmitted data for operators, such as Notams.
Other papers called for closer relations between weather providers and ATC planners and controllers, and for improved coordination of civil and military airspace utilization.
The adverse impact of criminal investigation of aircraft accidents was discussed, along with the essential need to protect the confidentiality of reports and testimony.
On new airline pilot qualifications, Eurocontrol proposed a 500-hour experience requirement, combining simulation and actual flying.
On future ATC technologies, underdeveloped nations expressed concern about investing in ostensibly new systems that could quickly be made obsolete by the rapid pace of technical developments, while Russia proposed closer coordination between design engineers in advanced nations to improve standardization while not inhibiting innovative and more efficient concepts.