ICAO U-turn paves way for national safety records to be made public

Montreal
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All countries' aviation safety records will be published within two years following oversight an unexpected turnaround of opinion from developing states at an International Civil Aviation Organisation conference in Montreal yesterday.

Aviation safety audit results for individual states will be made available to the public by March 2008, despite lobbying from developing nations and convenience-flag states. Six African states, plus Panama and Cuba, had argued from the floor at the ICAO conference  on a Global Strategy for Aviation Safety that countries' aviation safety standards, as assessed under ICAO's Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP), should be shared among member states but kept secret from the public for fear of disadvantaging their airlines or their tourist industry.

But after a break for informal discussion, ICAO director general Assad Kotaite turned developing world opinion on the subject around by offering a compromise of two years from 27 March for all states to get their safety oversight systems up to the minima required under the ICAO treaty.

He also pointed out that, as he was speaking on 20 March, 24 nations had already signed up to agree to the publication on the ICAO website of their national USOAP results, and that the director general of the ICAO Navigation Bureau Bill Voss was waiting in his office to receive those who had not signed.

The turnaround was dramatic. Within 30min states which had just spoken against the publication of safety standards were supporting it. The support was, in many cases, accompanied by an appeal for support to acquire the resources to carry out the improvements. These appeals were rapidly followed by a statement from the World Bank and the European Commission that support would only be available to states who signed up to the disclosure agreement.

ICAO's Voss said that the two year deadline would make "a bunch of states and capitals get worried," adding: " I expect we will see some new-found political will in some states to improve safety oversight."

Voss says: "Some states have done a brilliant job in improving their systems and they can't wait to tell their stories. Our current system hides the heroes." He quotes Tanzania and Cape Verde as examples of massive improvement for minimal investment.

He estimates that, by the end of the conference on 22 March, some 50 states out of the 124 represented at the conference would have signed up for disclosure. The implication is that this will start a domino effect.

Kotaite is in the final year of his ICAO  leadership and commentators believe he intends this conference result to be a legacy.

DAVID LEARMOUNT / MONTREAL

External link:
Read the working paper for the directors general of civil aviation on a global strategy for aviation safety from the ICAO web site.