In 2006, the international body that oversees cooperation among countries on regulations, standards and procedures governing civil aviation drew up two new most-direct routes that would pass through Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR), with instructions to have them established as soon as possible.
One path, “B591,” crosses the center line in the Taiwan Strait linking Shanghai with Taipei and then passes along the Central Mountain Range, with its end at Hengchun (恆春), Pingtung County, while the other, “B587,” connects Australia’s St George with Papua in Indonesia before ending at Hualien.
The two flight routes deemed “unfeasible” by Taipei haven’t been established after all because of several complex technical issues, including the fact that the two proposed paths would affect airspace used by Taiwanese military aircraft.
PHOTO: LIU JUNG, TAIPEI TIMES
Margaret Hong (洪美雲), director of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ Air Traffic Service Division of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), said her office was “surprised” at the plan by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plans.
“The airspace above the Central Mountain Range has been a military training and exercise area,” she said, adding that Taiwan could only relay “through neighboring FIRs” the message to the ICAO that it had problems cooperating with the plan.
This was one of many cases resulting from the exclusion of Taiwan from ICAO since 1971, when the country left all UN agencies after losing its seat to the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
Since then ICAO has severed all contacts and interactions with Taiwan.
“Even representatives from Taiwanese NGOs and private sectors have been barred from participating in its technical and academic seminars,” the CAA said.
Michael Gau (高聖惕), associate professor of international law at the Institute of Law of the Sea at National Taiwan Ocean University, said Taiwan has been treated as if it “did not exist” by the ICAO after its position was taken by China.
“ICAO regards Taiwan as a province of China … The territory of Taiwan, exclusively administered by the de facto independent Republic of China [ROC] government, plays an important role in international civil aviation arena … but the PRC government does not provide ICAO with information on Taiwan. In view of thise, in the organization, Taiwan does not exist,” Gau said.
As a transportation hub in the Asia Pacific region, Taiwan was linked by 212 international routes, including 118 passenger and 94 cargo routes, serving 104 cities globally, in the first half of this year.
The CAA said the Taipei FIR annually provides air traffic control services for more than 1.34 million flights, including one of the world’s busiest air routes connecting Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia.
On average, more than 174,000 international flights carrying 35 million passengers arrive in and depart from Taiwan annually, with its airports also handling more than 1.58 million tonnes of air cargo every year.
Citing a number of cases in which Taiwan “went to great lengths” to bring its civil practices into line with world standards set by ICAO, Hong said the CAA “urgently wished” to participate in its Regional Air Navigation Meetings, Division-type Air Navigation Meetings and groups working on various civil aviation issues in the Asia and Pacific region.
“Only by doing so can the civil aviation administrative authority, travelers and suppliers in the Taipei FIR obtain sufficient and timely information regarding ICAO decisions. This would also mean that ICAO can ensure that its policies are fully implemented without delay,” Hong said.
Because of a lack of direction communication with the ICAO, Taiwan has been relying on alternatives to make facilities at civil airports and operating procedures compatible with ICAO standards and suggestions.
Over the past few decades, the CAA has obtained ICAO policies through second-hand channels, either from the US Federal Aviation Administration or its counterparts in neighboring FIRs, as well as through a subscription to a US-based database of worldwide aviation regulations and safety and advisory information.
The CAA also hires consultants from the US or Australia, among others, to help ensure that regulations and operations revised in accordance with ICAO amendments meet its requirements and thereby ensure aviation security systems proceed in synchronization with international practice.
“Despites these, we sometimes have difficulty verifying whether the information obtained is current and complete and we never receive ICAO technical assistance to improve our air navigation system,” Hong said.
A case in point was when ICAO launched the Universal Security Audit Program in 2003 to improve aviation security by auditing member countries, organizations, ordinances and practices, with the first round of security audits being completed in 2007.
After learning of these developments, the CAA established a task force to conduct its own audit to ascertain the compliance of domestic civil aviation statutes. However, it still does not understand the history, considerations and framework underlying the audit program, Hong said.
In another instance Taiwan learned in 2006 that ICAO had begun reviewing its security management system. However, Taiwan only found that it would need to make considerable revisions to its system to meet ICAO norms when ICAO finally released its revised regulations last June.
“While Taiwan was still in the dark as to the content and direction of the review, ICAO member countries had already gradually amended their own regulations, based on discussions and consultations at ICAO meetings, before ICAO officially promulgated the revised laws,” Hong said.
Established pursuant to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, signed in 1944, the Canada-based ICAO has expanded to an international body of 190 members with 36 council members from 26 signatories and 21 council members in 1994.
Evaluating the legal feasibility of the country being granted observer status in ICAO, Gau concluded in an essay published in 2001 that UN Resolution 2758, which recognized the PRC as the sole legal government of China and constituted a recommendation to all its specialized agencies that the PRC be deemed the only legitimate representative of China in UN-related organizations — “is not legally capable of disabling the ICAO Council from inviting the ROC government to send observers to participate in ICAO meetings in the capacity of ‘Other Body’ as defined in various ICAO Rules of Procedures.”
“The legal basis for Taiwan to attend meetings and activities of ICAO does exist, depending upon which mechanism in ICAO it seeks to join,” Gau said during a telephone interview.
Gau said the Rules of Procedure for ICAO Council, for the Standing Committee of the Council, the Conduct of Division-type Air Navigation Meetings and the Conduct Regional Air Navigation Meetings all allow non-contracting parties, international organizations and “other bodies” to be granted observer status.
Although the Rules of Procedure for the all-member Assembly, the ICAO’s sovereign body, stipulate that only non-contracting states or international organizations may be represented by observers in its triennial session, precedents and practices indicate that the assembly has interpreted its Rules of Procedure in a flexible way when it has wanted to invite subjects falling outside that category, Gau said.
Both Palestine and Aeronautical Radio Inc, a private US firm, are neither sovereign states nor international organizations, yet they have been accorded observer status in the Assembly.
“In fact, the granting of observer status is more like a political problem than a legal issue,” he said.
Last September, Taipei announced it would strive to join UN specialized agencies rather than renewing its campaign for direct participation in the organization, with the ICAO and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) chosen as immediate targets.
In its appeal for international support for its bid for ICAO membership, the government stressed the importance of Taiwan being incorporated in delivering a “seamless sky” — a priority and mandate of the ICAO — despite the fact that politics could still be a determining factor in the success of the case.
An invitation from the ICAO Council, either decided by its 36 members or authorized by the Assembly, is a prerequisite for non-contracting parties to be granted observer status.
As China is a member of the Council, Gau said its attitude could play a crucial role.
Lily Hsu (徐儷文), the director-general of the Department of International Organization at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the government has been building up support for Taiwan’s participation in ICAO from the international community since the bid was launched last September.
The ministry was optimistic that some of the country’s allies would speak in support of granting Taiwan observer status at the ICAO during the 37th session of the ICAO Assembly, scheduled to start tomorrow and run until Oct. 8.
That would mark the first time the issue has been brought up at the organization, Hsu said.
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