Center for Strategic Decision Research


Safety and Security in the War on Terrorism: Introductory Remarks

Dr. Assad Kotaite
President, Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization


The fundamental need for a symbiotic relationship between global security and aviation security was clearly demonstrated by the terrorist acts in the United States on September 11, 2001. Civilian aircraft were crashed into public buildings and, as a result, thousands of innocent lives were destroyed, public confidence in air travel was seriously undermined, and much of civil aviation was propelled into a severe downward spin that produced tremors throughout the global economy. 

All these months later, September 11 is still very much with us. The physical wounds have not healed and the emotional wounds may never fully heal. Many nations, companies, and individuals are slowly recovering from the financial fallout of the tragic events. But intense efforts are under way to improve security in many segments of society. 

For its part, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and its 187 contracting states, together with other members of the international civil aviation community, have already enacted major initiatives to ensure that civil aviation never again provides the means for such abhorrent acts of unlawful interference. During my presentation, I will outline many of these initiatives and decisions. 


Before I discuss new initiatives, I want to emphasize that, in spite of the events of September 11, civil aviation remains fundamentally safe and secure. The year 2001 had one of the best accident records since the ICAO began keeping records more than 50 years ago and showed a significant improvement over the previous year. 

Similarly, our aviation security statistics show a long-term reduction in acts of sabotage, in acts of unlawful seizure of aircraft, and, until 2001, in the number of persons killed or injured. Sadly, 2001 was devastating. In addition to the events of September 11, there were other acts of unlawful interference against civil aviation in which civilians lost their lives. Over the past decade, however, security improved dramatically, to the point that, in some years, not a single loss of life was reported. 

The sustained improvements in aviation safety and security over the last half-century are the fruit of constant and systematic improvements in all areas of aviation, by all members of the world aviation community. As part of this global effort, ICAO worked to establish international standards for civil aviation, to assist its contracting states (currently 187) in the implementation of these standards and procedures, and to provide global leadership in promoting the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation. 

In the area of aviation security, ICAO has been developing preventive measures since 1968 and has continually strengthened them in response to new and emerging threats. Just as we responded to all previous security challenges, from hijackings to the use of plastic explosives, there is no doubt in my mind that together we can curtail the use of civil aircraft as weapons of mass destruction. We must and we will do more to save lives and to protect the enormous economic and social benefits of civil aviation for the citizens of our planet. 


The events of September 11 may be the biggest security challenge we have ever faced. The impact of these tragic events on air transportation and hence on our global economy has been very harsh. In 1998, for example, a total output of $1,360 billion and 27.7 million jobs were generated worldwide by air transportation. A significant portion of these benefits was lost because of September 11, and it will take time for these numbers to return to previous levels. 

For the year 2001, it is estimated that global passenger traffic fell by 5% and global air traffic, which includes passengers, cargo, and mail, by 8%. ICAO currently estimates that world passenger traffic will decline another 5% or so in 2002, with positive growth in 2003 and a return to traditional growth patterns only in 2004. 

Meeting these expectations will depend on a number of factors, including consumer confidence; the health of major economies; the political situation; the costs of fuel, security, and insurance; and, of course, no additional critical breaches of security. All of these issues, but particularly the last one, prompted ICAO to convene a high-level Ministerial Conference on Aviation Security in February 2002, at our headquarters in Montreal. 

Our goal, sharply focused on the new geopolitical realities, was to endorse a global strategy for strengthening aviation security, with the aim of protecting lives, restoring public confidence in air travel, and promoting the financial health of air transportation. The conference was pivotal in our drive for optimum aviation security. 


A key element of the strategy we adopted in Montreal is an ICAO Aviation Security Plan of Action, which will get under way in June 2002. The centerpiece of the plan is a program of mandatory audits to evaluate aviation security in all ICAO member-states. This audit program, which initially covers the period 2002 to 2004, will help states identify and correct deficiencies in the implementation of ICAO security-related standards. 

The program builds on our experience with the safety oversight program launched by the ICAO on January 1, 1999. Practically all member-states have been audited under the safety oversight program with encouraging results. A number of safety deficiencies have been identified, many of which have already been corrected, and detailed action plans have been developed for all others. 

Of course, identifying deficiencies is one thing; correcting them is another. Although all countries have the political will to do so, many lack the necessary technical or financial resources. The high-level Ministerial Conference recognized this and called on states, international organizations, and the civil aviation industry to provide, on a voluntary basis, adequate funding and/or assistance to implement the Plan of Action. It also called on everyone involved to enable all states to meet the requirements of enhanced security measures on a sustainable basis. ICAO's highly successful technical cooperation program is also available to states to help them locate and obtain the required resources. 

Identifying and Developing a Response to New and Emerging Threats

There are two other aspects of the ICAO Plan of Action that I find particularly pertinent. The first is the identification, analysis, and development of an effective global response to new and emerging threats, integrating timely measures to be taken in specific areas, including airports, aircraft, and air traffic control systems. ICAO has completed a study that lists and prioritizes categories of unlawful acts that are part of the new and emerging threats. They include using aircraft as weapons; suicide attacks in the air; suicide attacks on the ground; electronic attacks; computer-based attacks; chemical and biological attacks; and misuse of nuclear or other radioactive materials. Traditional or existing threats were also reviewed as part of this study. 

Once new threats have been identified and analyzed, effective deterrents to these threats must be developed. Relevant countermeasures must be properly planned and carried out and must meet the level of threat. They must also be based on a clear understanding of the practical implications for airlines and airports, and on the need of governments to efficiently process large amounts of sensitive, confidential, and therefore protected passenger data and information. 

As part of this work, we must be continually vigilant and promote ongoing efforts in the field of threat analysis. The means and methods of committing acts of unlawful interference will continue to evolve as perpetrators find weaknesses within the aviation system. We must always keep one step ahead. 

Strengthening Annexes to the Convention on International Civil Aviation

The other aspect of the ICAO Action Plan I want to emphasize is the need to strengthen the security-related provisions in the Annexes to the Convention on International Civil Aviation . In December 2001, the Council of ICAO adopted changes to some provisions related to security. More recently, we adopted, on a fast-track basis, a number of new international standards that will considerably enhance in-flight security. One of these is reinforced flight-deck doors to prevent unauthorized persons from forcibly gaining access to the flight deck. The doors must be closed and locked from the time all external aircraft doors are closed until they are opened at the destination, except to permit access and exit by authorized persons. There are also provisions for systems permitting pilots to monitor the entire door area outside the flight deck-to identify persons requesting entry and to detect suspicious behavior or potential threats-and for cabin crew to discreetly notify pilots of suspicious activity in the passenger cabin. In order to prepare crew members for dealing effectively with acts of unlawful interference, expanded security training will be necessary. 

War-Risk Insurance Coverage

The high-level Ministerial Conference also considered the question of war-risk insurance coverage, an issue that threatens the economic viability of international air transportation operations. After September 11, 2001, the international insurance market first cancelled and then only very partially reinstated coverage against losses and damages arising from acts of war, hijackings, and other related dangers for airline operators and service providers. As president of the council, I immediately appealed to all ICAO contracting states to temporarily cover the risks left open, and they responded positively.  

However, as we speak, the aviation insurance markets remain unsettled and expensive. A new global treatment for securing third-party war-risk insurance is essential for all aviation stakeholders. Medium- and long-term solutions have been proposed by a special working group established by the ICAO Council in October 2001, a key one of which calls for the establishment of an appropriate international mechanism under the auspices of ICAO. Through this plan, aviation war-risk insurance coverage would be provided by a non-profit entity that would initially have multilateral government backing. 

Safety and Security as the Fundamentals of Civil Aviation

The final element of the high-level Ministerial Conference that I want to mention is the public declaration endorsed by 154 participating states that outlines the fundamental principles upon which to guide our actions. The declaration states that safety and security are underlying fundamentals of civil aviation, and that they are inseparable and must always be treated as such. Although I have made a clear distinction between the two concepts during this presentation, as part of my discussion of ICAO programs and activities, the organization is heading toward greater integration of its safety and security initiatives, in order to achieve the most benefit from the synergy between the two. This new direction also reflects the passenger's view of safety and security as one and the same thing. Having a safe flight and flying on a safe airline both include the notion of security. 

The Need for a Global Approach

The declaration made at Montreal also reaffirms the responsibility of states for the security and the safety of civil aviation, whether air transportation and related services are provided by government or by private entities. In addition, the declaration recognizes that a uniform approach in a global system is essential to ensure aviation security throughout the world, and that deficiencies in any part of the system constitute a threat to every part. Like a chain, the aviation system is only as strong as its weakest link. A potential perpetrator will try to find that weakest link, even though the target may be halfway around the world. 

In the same vein, the declaration also affirms that a global aviation security system is the collective responsibility of all states-they all must ensure that the entire system is secure. 

Currently we are reviewing conventions and other legal instruments as they relate to acts of unlawful interference. Over the years, we have established an effective and universally accepted international legal system to provide no safe haven for perpetrators of unlawful acts. However, with the emergence of new types of threats, potential gaps and inadequacies in the system must be addressed and dealt with as soon as possible. More study of these new and emerging threats is needed, including looking at the organizing, instigating, sponsoring, and financing of attacks involving civil aviation as well as harboring of the perpetrators. Conventional laws aimed at repressing suicide attacks against civil aviation elements will of course not be effective against those who carry them out. Therefore, serious penalties must be imposed on those organizing, instigating, sponsoring, or financing such terrorist acts. These are all complex legal issues that must be addressed rapidly. 

Balancing Security with Passenger Convenience

Finally, the declaration underscores the need to apply additional and appropriate measures within national territories to meet the level of threat and to ensure that security measures do not disrupt or impede the flow of passengers, freight, mail, or aircraft. This last point is critical. There is no point in implementing security measures so strict that they discourage people from flying. We must call upon such technologies as Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTDs) and biometrics to help us accelerate the handling of passengers while increasing the level of security. New security measures must be effective, internationally coordinated, and applied with the greatest possible passenger convenience in mind. To achieve optimum balance between security and customer handling, speed and effectiveness are key factors. And it all must be done at a cost that does not drive the passenger away or place an undue burden on civil aviation. The Declaration is quite emphatic in saying that security measures must be implemented in a manner which is objective and non-discriminatory on the basis of gender, race, religion or nationality. 


Civil aviation security is an integral part of global security. Our collective resolve must be to create a security net that is global in nature and so tightly knit that not one act of unlawful interference can occur. The world needs and deserves an environment in which air transportation can develop both safely and efficiently. 

The Convention on International Civil Aviation, ICAO's charter, captured the essence of international civil aviation as a powerful force of friendship and understanding among the peoples of the world, and urges cooperation among nations upon which global peace depends. The convention states that abuse of civil aviation can become a threat to general security. It is therefore our ultimate responsibility, as governments, as peoples, and as nations, to do all in our power to protect this essential element of our global society. Humanity must stand as one, indivisible in its determination to achieve this most noble of goals. 


Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research