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War and peace:  ‘the aviation perspective’

On July 27, 2011, the flight bringing first aid to famine stricken Somalia landed in Mogadishu. It carried 10 tonnes of plumpy nuts enough to offer 3,500 children suffering from starvation a respite from death. According to the Economist, famine is declared when 30 percent of the children are actually malnourished, 20 percent of the population is without food and deaths are running at 10,000 adults or four per 10,000 children every day.

This is the peace side of aviation. An American drone is reported to have hovered above Pakistan's Waziristan area one day in March 2011 and unleashed three missiles on a gathering of people, some of whom were armed. Most of the 40 or so killed were civilians. These drones are operated in most instances from the United States, far away from the actual zone of attack by trained personnel operating hand held consoles. A strike is called a bugsplat. This is the war side of aviation.

On August 6, 2011, a NATO helicopter crashed during a battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan, killing 30 US soldiers, an interpreter and seven Afghans. This was the deadliest single incident for foreign troops in 10 years of war. The Taliban quickly claimed to have shot down the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. Again, this is the war side of aviation.

Disruptive passengers

In March 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which inter alia decided to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians. The Resolution also authorized Member States to take all necessary measures, to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi. This resulted in concerted air attacks by NATO forces on Libya. This resolution reflects both the war and peace sides of aviation.

The role of aviation both in pursuance of peace and at times of war has been critical.

Against this backdrop is commercial aviation, which amounts to 6 percent of the world's gross domestic product and provides 32 million jobs around the world. Commercial aviation, which carried 2.2. billion persons in 2010 has to ensure that all on board are safe from terrorists in extreme circumstances and unruly and disruptive passengers at the minimal level. This is indeed a delicate balance.

This article is written just over ten years after the events of September 11, 2001, when aircraft were used as weapons of mass destruction. From the inception of regulated civil aviation in 1944, the meaning and purpose of aviation has been to connect the world by meeting the needs of the people of the world for safe, reliable efficient and economical air transport. This objective is inextricably related to peace among nations.

The Preamble to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed at Chicago on December 7, 1944 (hereafter referred to as the Chicago Convention) states: whereas the future development of international civil aviation can greatly help to create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world, yet its abuse can become a threat to the general security; and whereas it is desirable to avoid friction and to promote that cooperation between nations and peoples upon which the peace of the world depend. In Article 4 of the Convention each Contracting State agrees not to use civil aviation for any purpose inconsistent with the aims of the Convention.

Political motivations

The pursuit of peace has been inseparable from policy making and dispute settlement in affairs of aviation. Varied and chronologically sequential instances where the International Civil Aviation Organization was requested by its Contracting States to address contentious issues relating to civil aviation are reflective of the importance of political considerations that underlie such disputes and the relentless search by nations of the world to settle disputes peacefully. Although political contentions may exist between states, which is a natural corollary of statecraft and international politics, it is not the purview of an international organization to address political motivations of individual states when considering issues referred to it or adjudicating disputes between states. In this regard, the International Civil Aviation Organization has tread a delicate line between diplomacy and objectivity.

Economic revival

Current perspectives in world peace and its significance with regard to the role of aviation took a dramatic turn with the events of September 11, 2001 which defied modern economic and management theory when addressed in aviation terms and brought to bear the need for states to look at each other differently when addressing issues of aviation. While economic theory would suggest that, once the impact of such events will be felt no more, and economies are restored to their status quo ante, a rise in the gross domestic product of states to earlier levels would almost inevitably result in increased consumption and restoration of the business, this did not happen naturally due to various intervening factors.

The natural assumption that the demand for air travel would rise to earlier proportions and consumption in terms of air transport services would be restored to normalcy was obviated by the very nature and effects of the September attacks in the United States which introduced a unique characteristic through the fear factor that directly impacts the future development of air transport. There was also the seven day notice given by the insurance underwriters on September 17, 2001 that on September 24, third party war risk insurance coverage of airlines would be withdrawn which called for collective indemnity action by the world community through nations to insure their own airlines against the risk they were exposed to.

As a result of these unique features, the grim task of sustainability of air transport, assurance of services and restoration of passenger confidence stands in the way of economic revival of the air transport industry. These three factors inevitably call for renewed efforts on the part of states and the international community as a whole at diplomacy and international relations.

It is incontrovertible that the most critical challenge facing international civil aviation is to sustain the air transport industry and assure its consumer of continuity of air transport services. The Air Transport Association (ATA), in its 2002 state of the United States Airline Industry statement, advised that, in the United States, the combined impact of the 2001 economic downturn and the precipitous decline in air travel following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States had resulted in devastating losses for the airline industry which are likely to exceed $ 7 billion and continue through 2002. Of course, the overall picture, which portended a certain inevitable gloom for the air transport industry, was not the exclusive legacy of United States carriers. It applied worldwide, as was seen in the abrupt downfall of air traffic globally during 2001. The retaliation by the world community against terrorism, which is an ongoing feature in world affairs, increased the airline passenger's fear and reluctance to use air transport.

In most instances in commercial aircraft purchasing, air carriers cancelled or postponed their new aircraft requisition orders. Critical to aviation crisis management was that restoration of confidence.

Global aviation system

Confidence building in the global aviation system is within the purview of both the contribution of aviation to world peace and effective aviation management. In restoring confidence in air transport services, states should focus not only on building bridges in the air and settling aviation disputes but also on contributing to the world peace process both regionally and globally through humanitarian perspectives and peace initiatives. Aviation management, on the other hand, should essentially target disciplines applicable to three aspects: commercial viability, insurance coverage and ensuring security. Measures already taken for risk management by states, in offering indemnities and guarantees toward third party war risk liability of their air carriers, and initiating action on aviation security and insurance worldwide provided a post 9/11 basis for global comity and understanding and assured the world community that collective political will through diplomacy is the fundamental postulate in restoring uniformity in a divisive world.

Now there is a demonstrable and compelling need for diplomacy in aviation in order to bring about and sustain revival in the aviation industry. In this context, it is noteworthy that diplomacy and international relations in aviation has now turned full circle from the inception of its regulation in 1944. In 2001, as in 1944, states emerged from a disaster, this time concerning aviation, and were required to review the way they saw each other. Citizens of the world scrutinized both their governments and those of foreign nations whose responsibility it was to ensure good governance and the continuity of the world communications systems. The politician, diplomat and lawyer increasingly turned toward principles of International Law to determine the best course of action in crisis.

Fundamental principle

Current political and diplomatic problems mostly emerge as a result of the inability of the world to veer from its self serving concentration on individual perspectives to collective societal focus. This distorted approach gives rise to undue emphasis being placed on rights rather than duties; on short-term benefits rather than long-term progress and advantage and on purely mercantile perspectives and values rather than higher human values. Another sensitivity is the thin line which exists between international law and international politics, which, when applied to aviation becomes even thinner.

Against this backdrop is the fundamental principle that the overriding theme of international civil aviation has been, and continues to be, the need to foster friendship and understanding among the people of the world with the ultimate objective of fostering peace. Toward this end both the principles of air navigation and aviation economics have to ensure that aviation is developed in a manner that would make sure it helps to avoid friction among nations.

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