(Releads with comments by ICAO)
By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert
OTTAWA/MONTREAL, July 18 The U.N. civil aviation
body on Friday said it was not responsible for issuing warnings
about potential dangers such as military conflicts, saying that
duty fell to individual nations.
The role of the International Civil Aviation Authority has
come under scrutiny after a Malaysian airliner was shot down by
a missile on Thursday over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people.
Montreal-based ICAO rejected suggestions it should have
issued a warning about the potential dangers of flying over the
"ICAO does not declare airspace safe or unsafe or undertake
any other direct operational responsibilities with respect to
civilian air services," said spokesman Anthony Philbin.
"It is always the responsibility of our sovereign member
states to advise other states of potential safety hazards."
Asked whether ICAO would ever issue warnings about the
dangers of missiles, he replied: "It's not our job."
Malaysia's transport minister said earlier that ICAO had
shut down a route over eastern Ukraine after the disaster. ICAO
said it did not have the power to open or shut routes.
ICAO did issue a warning to airlines in April about flying
over Crimea in the wake of the Russian invasion but it cited
potential problems with conflicting air traffic controllers, not
the risk of violence.
The warning was not an order but rather said "consideration
should be given to measures to avoid the airspace".
Malaysia said ICAO had approved the route the doomed
airliner took but this appears to be a misreading of what the
body does. ICAO issues advisories based on decisions taken by
delegates rather than telling members what to do.
"It is up to countries to implement them or not, most
countries do ... but ICAO standards are more or less equivalent
to a treaty, you can either comply or not as you see fit," said
a Canadian expert on aviation law, who asked not to be named
because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Despite having an expertise in aviation, ICAO is challenged
by its inherent structure as a U.N. body with 190 members, said
John Saba, a lecturer at McGill University's Integrated Aviation
Management Programme in Montreal.
"The political constraints are beyond them," Saba said of
ICAO. "You have people from different countries who are trying
to represent the interest of their country but also hammer out
"To condemn them (ICAO) would be very, very unfair."
Philbin said ICAO would not pass on any information it might
receive about airlines avoiding certain parts of the world
because "ICAO doesn't really have an operational mandate."
Ukraine had allowed airliners to fly at 32,000 feet (9,753
meters) and higher above the area where the Malaysian flight
crashed. U.S. and other officials say the jet was shot down by a
surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by
Russian-backed separatist rebels.
Brussels-based Eurocontrol is the agency responsible for
coordinating European airspace. It and ICAO were cited in a
safety bulletin issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency in
April advising that Crimean airspace should be avoided.
Domestic authorities also have significant powers. The U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration issued an order on Thursday
prohibiting American aircraft from flying over eastern Ukraine.
ICAO has made an offer to Ukraine to put together an
international team of investigators, U.N. political affairs
chief Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council On Friday.
The crash highlights the fragmented nature of global
Philbin said there had been no talk of ICAO taking on a more
global regulatory role and Saba said the organization was
unlikely to change in the near future.
"The countries that are members of ICAO have to agree to it.
How are you going to get them all to agree to give ICAO more
power over them?" he said. "They are our best hope for having
any international rules. It may be an imperfect hope but they
are our best hope."
(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa and Euan
Rocha in Toronto; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Amran Abocar, Tom
Brown and James Dalgleish)