As its 37th General Assembly began in Montreal, the International Civil Aviation Organisation signed a memorandum of understanding with three of the world's most influential aviation players to launch a global safety information exchange (GSIE).
ICAO itself is to be the repository of the GSIE, a function it has long wanted to host, but for which an agreement was not forthcoming. Now that the organisation has signed the MoU with the European Union, the US Department of Transportation, and the International Air Transport Association, getting the rest of the world to follow should be easier, especially as this announcement was made on 28 September, the opening day of ICAO's triennial assembly which finishes on 8 October. The USA, Europe and IATA - but not ICAO - at present operate their own extensive safety information databases, but access to that information for aviation organisations that are not members is limited or unavailable. ICAO promises information held by the GSIE will be protected by confidentiality legislation, and that its purpose will be to enable the organisation to identify event trends so as to be able to alert the aviation community to an emerging risk before it causes harm.
ICAO secretary general Raymond Benjamin says of the GSIE: "The more effective and widespread sharing of safety information by regulators and industry can help to better identify existing and emerging risks in air transport operations, making it possible to take action before safety issues result in accidents."
In a crowded agenda at this assembly, perhaps ICAO's toughest task is to try to get agreement on a policy on action that the air transport industry can take to combat climate change. If it succeeds, says ICAO, aviation will be the only industry in the world to set itself standards for environmental performance. It wants to set a target to improve world fleet fuel efficiency by 2% a year, while IATA is pressing for 1.5%. ICAO would like to see if it could achieve agreement in advance of this year's United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Mexico City in December. Last year's UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen achieved no agreements of any kind except to keep talking.