Russia clashed with Europe and the United States on Tuesday over the aviation industry’s response to the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner, calling for a delay in plans to establish a warning system on risks from conflict zones.
A senior Russian official told a gathering of the United Nations’ aviation agency that plans for a centralized information-sharing system posed legal risks that could only be addressed by a full meeting of all 191 member states in 2016.
The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation has been under pressure to come up with a new system to protect aircraft from risks after Malaysia Airlines MH17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over eastern Ukraine last July.
The incident occurred during fighting between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatist rebels. The United States says the plane was hit by a ground-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed rebels. Moscow says a Ukrainian military aircraft downed it.
“I think it would reflect on us very badly …. if we did not see these ideas through to delivery,” Patricia Hayes, Britain’s top aviation official, told an ICAO safety conference.
Speaking for the European Union, the Netherlands, which lost 196 citizens on MH17, said there was no need to delay setting up an information-sharing prototype.
ICAO’s chairman said most members supported the scheme, but a final decision is not expected until later this year.
In a brief spat on the floor of the meeting, Ukraine demanded parts of a Russian paper on the subject be withdrawn.
Sparring over MH17 overshadowed efforts to show a united response to two Malaysian plane disasters that pushed aviation to the top of the international agenda, making 2014 a tragic centenary year for commercial flight.
Earlier on Tuesday, aviation leaders rallied behind a tight deadline to improve the tracking of passenger planes in a push to prevent a recurrence of the still unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
The rare UN gathering reflects pressure to show progress in time for the March anniversary of MH370. Regulators and airlines were criticised for responding too slowly to French tracking recommendations after the crash of an Air France jet in 2009.
ICAO urged airlines not to wait to install tracking systems that are already available.
“We know that there are technologies available today,” Nancy Graham, director of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau, said.
Britain, China and the United States backed ICAO proposals for further tracking guidelines that would apply from November 2016, an accelerated timetable in the often laborious process of aviation regulation.
Aircraft would have to send their position at least every 15 minutes, or more often in case of emergency, but it would be up to each state to decide how and when to implement this.
Malaysia said it was “unacceptable” that an aircraft or its recorders could be lost, decades after satellites were invented.
Airlines have been criticised for backing away from stop-gap proposals to fit existing tracking technology in all passenger jets within 12 months. The International Air Transport Association, which represents about 200 airlines, defended their record.
“Many airlines are tracking their aircraft today,” IATA Director General Tony Tyler said.
However, he urged regulators to ensure that “hasty action” did not add complexity or “unintended impacts on safety.”
(Editing by Amran Abocar and Christian Plumb)
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