ICAO Moves Ahead on Technical Issues

 - November 2, 2013, 1:10 AM

When representatives from every world nation and every civil aviation organization gather at the triennial ICAO Assembly, topics on the agenda include current progress and issues as well as future challenges and potential solutions. For the technical commission, the major topics consisted of international progress with aviation system block upgrades (ASBU), which are designed to bring a harmonized approach to worldwide air traffic management; the development and application of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), with similar emphasis on harmonized operations; and the continuing actions toward a truly international “just culture” that separates accident investigations from legal proceedings.

ICAO introduced aviation system block upgrades (ASBU) in 2011 as a means of modernizing and standardizing world aviation’s ground and airborne communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) systems and procedures, where unique equipage would no longer be required, and legacy systems replaced. Individual blocks were assigned to each nation, with each block consisting of several modules specifying CNS equipage levels of different cost and complexity, depending on that nation’s traffic demands and the maturity of its aviation infrastructure.

National blocks have been assessed independently by their expected individual compliance date, with initial block assignments–essentially the current “basic” CNS infrastructure–called Block 0 and to be complete by year-end. Block 1 completion, calling for higher CNS level compliance, is targeted for 2018, with Block 2 completion by 2023 and Block 3 by 2028, each with increasing commitments. ASBU assessments will also require a positive business case for each equipment investment, and less developed nations were encouraged to consider combining their ATC services with those of larger nations, or to become members of a regional consortium, to ease their financial burden.

Unquestionably, ASBUs will create a much more efficient and practical approach to achieving worldwide “seamless” airspace than today’s piecemeal advances in regional ATM implementation, which will now occur in more timely steps. In particular, the new approach promises greater value to corporate operators flying to less well developed regions.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems

At ICAO’s 2012 Air Navigation Conference, Russia stated that it would mandate carriage of Glonass in Russian-registered aircraft, and would permit carriage of GPS only if it were integrated with Glonass, a move intended to fend off Russian purchasers of stand-alone GPS units, to the detriment of Glonass sales. At the 2012 conference, IATA strongly protested the Russian mandate, stating that it violated the spirit and intent of ICAO’s free use of worldwide navaid services. The Russian delegation ignored the protest, and ICAO’s hands were tied, since Russia’s sovereignty overruled ICAO practices. However, GPS manufacturers told AIN at the time that an integrated Glonass/GPS airborne receiver was not on their calendars, and this is still the case.

At this year’s Assembly, IATA raised the same objections again. The Russians’ new position is that since Russia would have to accept responsibility for the safe operation of a foreign GNSS in Russian-registered aircraft, the GNSS operator would need to provide ICAO with sufficient technical data to fully assess its complete operational safety. Upon satisfactory completion of that assessment, Russia would review its position. However, the point may be moot: while a large number of Western aircraft are based in Russia, few are registered there, since they are usually leased from non-Russian companies. Incidentally, Russia had no concerns about overflights or landings by GPS-equipped foreign-registered aircraft.

Currently, civil aircraft operating in China or through Chinese airspace appear to have no restrictions regarding the use of GPS versus that nation’s BeiDou satellite navigation system, which now already covers the country and much territory beyond its borders, and is expected to offer worldwide coverage before 2020. But Chinese representatives were non-committal on BeiDou mandates for Chinese-registered aircraft, although that does appear inevitable when global coverage is attained.

‘Just Culture’ Accident Investigations

The application of a “just culture” in accident investigations was discussed at length, and the technical commission took the unusual step of drafting resolutions for adoption by the Assembly Plenary and the ICAO Council, rather than making the usual lower-priority recommendations from the Commission. The main ICAO concerns of the “just culture” issue are as follows:

• The use of information derived from accident investigations, for disciplinary, civil, administrative and criminal proceedings, is generally not a means to maintain or improve aviation safety, and measures taken so far in several member states to ensure the protection of accident and incident records may not be sufficient. Protection of safety information from inappropriate use is essential to ensure the continued availability of safety information, to enable proper and timely preventive actions to be taken.

• A balanced legal environment is required, in which disciplinary action is not taken as a consequence of actions by operational personnel that are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence or willful violations are not tolerated. However, there are growing concerns about safety information being used for disciplinary and punitive enforcement actions and being introduced as evidence in judicial proceedings.

• The use of safety information for other than safety-related purposes may inhibit the provision of such information, with an adverse effect on aviation safety, and policies and practices in many states may not adequately protect safety information from inappropriate use. Member states should examine their existing legislation to protect information gathered from all relevant safety data collection and processing systems, based on legal and other guidance developed by ICAO.