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February 13, 2016

International Task Force Meets to Devise Rules for Flights Over Conflict Zones

How can another war-related air catastrophe such as the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 be averted?

A task force of 59 government and industry experts convened by the International Civil Aviation Organization is trying to answer that question at a two-day meeting that started Thursday at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters.

The group is examining how governments and international agencies can circulate intelligence about threats such as the surface-to-air missile that destroyed the Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine on July 17.

Tony Tyler, director general of the International Air Transport Association, said last month that intelligence is the key to helping carriers avoid danger zones.

“Even sensitive information can be sanitized in a way that ensures airlines get essential and actionable information without compromising [intelligence] methods or sources,” Tyler said.

The aviation industry has asked ICAO to also address measures to govern the deployment of anti-aircraft weaponry – such as the Russian-made Buk ground-based air defense system that Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines plane.

The task force includes officials from 16 countries, including Ukraine, Russia, Malaysia and the Netherlands – the nation that lost the most passengers among the 298 people on board the Malaysia Airlines flight who were killed.

The U.S. representatives on the task force include Joshua Holtzman, head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of National Security Programs and Incident Response.

What the task force comes up with “could be anything from, when there’s a conflict in a region, making no-fly zones, maybe altitude restrictions, [establishing] safe corridors through certain regions, or just putting certain areas completely off limits, regardless of altitude. There’s a number of ways they could go, but they’re going to look at all possible angles based on their [ICAO] risk assessment programs,” said Dr. Tim Holt, director of academics and assistant professor of aeronautics and aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide.

The task force will send its findings to ICAO’s governing council and, in turn, the council’s recommendations will be taken up at ICAO’s conference on safety with its 191 member states next February.

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    Feb. 1, 2016
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