Taiwan has long been an important contributor to international civil aviation thanks to its provision of civil aviation services. Yet this key East Asian nation continues to be excluded from the meetings and activities of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a sad state in existence since 1971 that has been to the detriment of international aviation security.
Taiwan’s exclusion is incompatible with its importance to international civil air transport. Situated alongside major Asian flight routes, Taiwan is responsible for the Taipei Flight Information Region (TFIR), which abuts the Fukuoka, Manila and Hong Kong flight information regions. Every year, over 1.13 million flights pass through the TFIR, while 49 airlines operate regular flights connecting Taiwan to 104 cities around the world. The TFIR is central to air transport in East Asia, with some 34.38 million passengers and 14.40 million tons of cargo passing through it annually.
The ICAO oversees civil aviation safety and the orderly growth of the aviation industry. Its mandate covers the entire world. Due to Taiwan’s absence from the ICAO, it has been difficult for Taiwan’s civil aviation authorities to update aviation standards and regulations in line with international norms.
This has had negative consequences for both Taiwan and the ICAO. Taiwan has had to expend considerably more time, money and effort than ICAO members on improving aviation safety and security. For the aviation body, Taiwan’s absence means its goal of seamless global air traffic management operations can never be reached.
Countries around the globe have invested a great deal of resources into improving aviation security since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. All this effort notwithstanding, terrorist activity still rears its ugly head from time to time, with the December 2001 ``shoe bomber” and the 2009 ``Christmas bomber” being two striking examples.
Such incidents highlight a shift in terrorist methodology: as target countries have made their security nearly impenetrable, terrorists now board aircraft at locations where security is less tight. Thus, any nation whose air security efforts differ from or is less effective than the global norm may find itself serving as the takeoff point for an attack. Should terrorists ever be successful in carrying out an attack from such a location, the consequences would be felt globally.
To address this problem, the ICAO initiated the Universal Security Audit Program (USAP) in December 2000. The second cycle of USAP audits began in July 2008, and the process has been helpful in evaluating the aviation security of participating nations. Besides ensuring implementation of Annex 17 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, USAP audits have helped countries plug holes in their security.
The program will not result in a seamless global aviation security network. Despite the ICAO’s stated fundamental principle of universality, not all nations are included in the scope of the audit. Air security concerns will remain even after the program has been completed.
The ICAO should, therefore, invite Taiwan to participate in its meetings and activities as an observer. This would ensure that uniform aviation security measures are in place worldwide and allow for seamless air traffic management operations, meaning safer passengers and cargo in Asia and around the globe.
Mao Chi-kuo is the minister of transportation and communications in Taiwan.