Crew Change at ICAO Paris
In my long career with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) since 1971 the opportunity arose many times to say farewell to trusted colleagues. Such occasions appeared sporadically in the beginning, but as time went on, their frequency kept increasing – a phenomenon which I did not recognize as a warning sign or as a call to get myself prepared. For some reason, one considers retirement as something that only happens to other people. And then, suddenly, it is one’s own turn. Naturally, I have not been exempt from this development, but I very happily accept this change in life. Although aviation was the core of my entire professional career, it is a happy moment to leave the responsibilities to others.
The upcoming event of my leaving the playing field on 3 November 2004 prompts me to look back and to take stock of the past. One thing is certain: once bitten by the bug of aviation, there is no escape, and the occasional thought of leaving this wonderful field of work during my career was quickly discarded, almost at the moment it crossed my mind. Thinking back to the early 1960’s, my studies and training in air traffic control in Vienna brings back fond memories of the ILI4, the IL18, the DC3, DC4, DC6, DC7, the Vickers Viscount and the Super Constellation. As time went on, jet aeroplanes were introduced into routine operations, such as the Caravelle, the TU104, the TU134, the Comet, the B707 and others. Primary radar was introduced in day-today air traffic control and it felt so good to us controllers to suddenly “see” the tracks of these flying machines, to work with them and to apply much more efficient separation standards, in this way creating the first important increase is airspace capacity.
Well, things have changed most drastically over the years and the “good old times” remain, at best, of some historical interest. But it was all the start of a most important and breath taking progress, which has not stopped and will not stop.
Technological progress brought with it political changes, or, at least, it went along with them. But with the political changes, the demand of the general public for air transport services (business, tourism, cargo) grew steadily as this mode of transport became ever more affordable. The introduction of “charter flights” for holiday travel was a revolution at its time and created massive and increasing travel peaks every year. And we in ICAO, together with our Contracting States, worked hard to adjust the air navigation system, its regulation, its infrastructure, and its capacity, to meet demand. This was a game where we had difficulty keeping up with the pace of change, despite the many sometimes-futuristic solutions that we technicians had worked out and proposed for implementation. In many cases this was a source of considerable frustration because the obstacles were formidable, mostly either financial or political or both.
Around 398S, the situation in Europe became unbearable in the summer peak season when the only remedy to capacity shortfalls was to keep flights on the ground to wait for a slot to enter the air navigation system along its desired flight trajectory from departure to destination airport. This was the time when this technical problem became rapidly a political one. The public had taken notice and the public openly expressed its unhappiness with the industry.
As a result of this, the political atmosphere changed. The Transport Ministers of the States of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) became acutely aware of the need to resolve the problem and the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) became an important implementation organ for the proposed solutions and ideas, which had become acceptable virtually, overnight. In the following hectic era of activity, ICAO had its hands full to help keep things in line with the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago, 1944) and with the world wide provisions flowing from this important legal instrument.
Coincidental with this development, the geo-political situation in Europe also changed radically. The former Soviet Union yielded to fifteen sovereign States, the former Socialist People’s Republic of Yugoslavia fell into five sovereign States, and Czechoslovakia decided to split into two States. Within a very short period of time, all these States became ICAO Contracting States and we, at the ICAO Regional Office had to redirect our work programme, and even our methods of work very considerably. The focus of our work shifted from direct technical development work to one of close cooperation with Eurocontrol, where some of the technical work was now undertaken, as well as to assist our new Contracting States to modernize and adjust their air navigation systems to ICAO global and regional standards. In addition, extensive interface work became necessary between the ICAO European Region and the North Atlantic, the Africa and Indian Ocean Region, the Middle East Region, the Asia and Pacific Regions, and – over the North Pole – the North America Region to ensure the coherency of the global air navigation system and to integrate the rapid developments in the core area of Europe.
These were difficult but also most exciting and rewarding times for the ICAO European and North Atlantic Office, which I had the honour to head as its director from 1990 to 2004. The main achievements we have made in this great team of States and international organizations are worth mentioning – although my list will by no means be complete. Since 1965 the ICAO Regional Office supports the North Atlantic Systems Planning Group (NAT SPG) and since 1972 the European Air Navigation Planning Group (EANPG). These Groups were instrumental over the decades in planning for the continued improvement of the air navigation systems in these two regions, particularly as regards the integration of modern technologies that enhance safety and improve system capacity. Apart from this work-intensive and continuously ongoing activity, the Office recorded a number of outstanding achievements. One spectacular one was the successful negotiation and establishment of the Cross-Polar air routes, which involved China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, Canada and the USA. It was within a record time of just two and a half years that this project could be realized in January 2001, resulting in considerable reduction of flight time, passenger comfort and economic advantages.
A further achievement was the introduction of reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM), first in the North Atlantic Region in March 1997 and later in major parts of Western and Central Europe in January 2002. The economic advantages in improved routing, shorter flight trajectories, reduced fuel burn and enhanced capacity paid for the necessary considerable investments in a very short time. Planning for the introduction of new digital communication technology (including Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC)) is progressing at increasing speed with a most active involvement of the ICAO European and North Atlantic Regional Office. This new technology, in line with the ICAO Communications, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) concept, will revolutionize air traffic management and air traffic control in oceanic airspace and over sparsely populated areas of the world.
Considerable work was and is being done with the rationalization of airspace structures, paving the way to what is known as the Single European Sky Concept of the European Commission. This ambitious goal is now set in motion, and work concentrates on implementing it within the provisions of the Chicago Convention in a harmonious manner and such that all procedures and interface arrangements are compatible with the established air navigation systems outside the area of the European Union. ICAO will retain an important role in this field.
One major challenge for States concerned and for us in the ICAO Paris Office was the preparation for the Summer Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. In a series of meetings that lasted for over two years, it was possible to prepare the air navigation system in the area to fully cope with the increased air traffic demand. At hindsight one can be proud of this achievement, which allowed for a flawless and safe traffic flow in and out of Greece during the Games, and which provides new opportunities for future air traffic development.
The diversity of work at the ICAO Regional Office in Paris may be illustrated by its close involvement with the reconstruction of a civil aviation administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Upon its independence in 1992, that State had no functioning administration, no functioning infrastructure and a politically most complex set-up. It took us the better part of ten years of continuous help for that State to reach a status where one can say that it now conforms essentially to ICAO requirements. The flight operations in and out of the reconstructed modern international airport of Sarajevo bears witness to this success. The ICAO Regional Office is also closely involved in civil aviation developments in the South Caucasus area as well as in the States of Central Asia. The goal there is to establish airspace continuums, which would allow uniform procedures, rationalized air traffic control sectors and a total operational transparency for pilots flying into, out of and through these airspaces. It can be expected that this goal will take some time to reach, but important preparatory work has been undertaken for some time.
I hope that this short expose will illustrate to the reader the wide span of work in the aviation field over time, in geographical extent and in variety of concern.
As I say farewell to all my many friends and colleagues from the States in the European Region with whom I had the honour and the pleasure to work for so many years, I wish to introduce, at the same time, my successor who was recently appointed by the Secretary General of ICAO. He is Mr Karsten Theil who is currently Director in the Safety Department of the CAA of Denmark. After 34 years of service with the CAA Denmark, Karsten Theil brings a solid experience in international co-operation along with him. He has represented Denmark in several working parties and conferences, not only in ICAO but also in NATO, ECAC, Eurocontrol and EU, and following nomination by the Nordic States he served as the Representative of Denmark on the Council of ICAO during the period 1995-98. At ICAO’s 11th Air Navigation Conference in September 2003, he chaired the technical committee, which took decisions on the global air traffic management operational concept. He has been the Chairman of the North Atlantic Systems Planning Group (NAT SPG) for several years in the past and currently serves as Chairman of the European Air Navigation Planning Group (EANPG). He also represents Denmark in the European Commission’s Single Sky Committee.
I trust that Mr Theil will establish and continue the close relationship between ICAO and the States in the area of accreditation of the ICAO European and North Atlantic Office. I know that he is eminently capable of carrying our common work forward and to contribute to international civil aviation as much as is possible within the capabilities of the International Civil Aviation Organization.