Thursday, July 30, 2015
As expected, Russia used its Security Council veto to prevent the U.N. from creating a tribunal to prosecute persons responsible for last year's downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17. The Chicago Convention and its annexes include provisions for investigating accidents for the purposes of identifying causes and preventing their recurrence, but investigators are not authorized to assign blame or dispense punishment. As a specialized agency of the U.N., it is only natural that ICAO would defer to the U.N. on an issue as sensitive as this. It could be argued that protecting international civil aviation from violence should be seen as a distinct priority that should be institutionally segregated from the larger U.N., but that is not the system we have and granting ICAO the power to conduct criminal prosecutions or to sanction States, other than by revoking their voting privileges, could jeopardize the organization's ability to facilitate technical coordination on matters that are less contentious, but still extremely important. Because of the oft-lamented institutional design of the U.N Security Council, any efforts to prosecute this act will have to be conducted outside of the U.N. system, as was done in the case of the Lockerbie bombing.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Among the many restrictions small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operators face, one of the least controversial is the limitation on operations above 400 feet of altitude. Similar altitude caps are common throughout the world, even in countries perceived more accommodating to small UAS operation. Most current uses for small UAS are easily satisfied at lower altitudes without worrying about the increased potential for interference with manned aircraft above that threshold. Indeed, one of the perceived advantages to operating in this space is that it presumably obviates the need for the significant technological breakthroughs and attention to regulatory compliance that would be required to integrate small UAS into the manned commercial airspace. At this week's NASA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Conference, Amazon proposed to further divide segregated airspace into a dedicated space for "high-speed transit" operations between 200 and 400 feet of altitude, and restrict "low-speed localized" operations to no higher than 200 feet above the surface. Presumably this would allow high volume commercial drone operators such as Amazon to operate a fleet of vehicles with more sophisticated navigational capabilities free from interference with less expensive models used by hobbyists or smaller commercial operations.
One can't help but wonder if such a demarcation wouldn't also helpfully foist the potential legal concerns about trespassing or airspace ownership onto these same hobbyists and small business owners. If altitudes above 200 feet can be designated as a separate commercial class of navigable airspace, beyond landowners' "exclusive control over the immediate reaches" of their land, then the burden of litigating over where property rights end and public airspace begins will fall to the hobbyists and local operators that will be populating that airspace.
Monday, July 20, 2015
Officials from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration completed an initial assessment of the Thai civil aviation sector last week and reportedly identified a number of problems in need of correction for the country to maintain its Category 1 rating and avoid restrictions on Thai carriers' ability to operate to the United States. Most of the concerns are related to inadequate staffing in the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), which has prevented the DCA from conducting inspections in keeping with international standards. It has been a trying year for Thai aviation, which was designated with Significant Safety Concerns by ICAO in January and has subsequently faced operating restrictions from China, Japan, and South Korea. Thai carriers did manage to avoid placement on the most recent edition of the EU "blacklist" last month, perhaps a reflection of the EU's emphasis on the conduct of foreign airlines as opposed to the oversight capabilities of foreign regulators.