Speech by State-Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment Wilma Mansveld at the ICAO Second High-level Safety Conference in Montreal

This is what the State Secretary said in Mortreal today, at ICAO (worldwide aviation organisation) High-level safety conference.
She advocates among others one central information system for  flying above conflict areas.

Thank you, Mr Chairman, Mr President, Mr Secretary General, distinguished delegates,

I’d like to thank ICAO for inviting me to speak here today. It’s special to be here, as a politician. Why am I emphasising that? Because ICAO is a non-political organisation. This isn’t the place to make political statements. But whát is political about promoting civil aviation safety? Whát is political about my calling for effective international cooperation to improve safety? That’s not politics; it’s the reason we’re all here today.

One country alone can’t achieve anything. Aviation safety can only be improved by constructive international cooperation. So it’s good to be here in this international aviation community of 191 member states. And I call on all countries to share information effectively to enhance aviation safety. It’s not just our responsibility – it’s our duty.

17 July 2014, this day 298 people fell victim to a conflict they had nothing to do with. The impact of the disaster on Dutch society was, and still is, enormous. Nearly everyone in my country knows one of the 196 Dutch victims: family members, neighbours, classmates or colleagues.
I’ll never forget talking to the families of the victims. Their sorrow and anger, their sense of helplessness, and their questions. The people of my country will never forget the images of the long line of black hearses taking the coffins from the air base to the forensic centre. Thousands and thousands of people lined the route to show their respect. These are images that will stay in our collective memory for ever.

Even now, the disaster is still at the forefront of people’s minds and it still raises questions. Questions about the circumstances and the cause, and whether it could have been prevented. And even now, people ask themselves whether they are taking a risk when they board a plane.

There are dozens of conflict zones, and tens of thousands of people who travel by air every day. And no matter where they board, what airline they choose, or where their destination is, they should be able to assume that their route is as safe as any other. Flying should be associated with freedom and safety, not luck. An airline ticket should not be a lottery ticket.

We’re not just concerned about the Dutch passengers who boarded a Malaysian plane. This also concerns the safety of the American businessman flying any airline. And the Australian student travelling to Europe or South America. It concerns the safety of your citizens too.

That is why we must share information. And we can. I’m very pleased with the initiative taken by ICAO and industry partners, shortly after the disaster, to set up a Task Force on “Risks to Civil Aviation arising from Conflict Zones”. Thanks to this task force, we now have specific, practical proposals on how to effectively share information about flying over conflict zones.

For instance, the task force has proposed setting up a single, centralised information system, with up-to-date information on airspace closures and relevant recommendations from government authorities to their airlines. No longer spread over different sources, but brought together and made accessible to all countries. A first step, but a very important one!

We also have proposals from the Task force on how states and airlines can conduct good risk analyses on flying over conflict zones. We have an advisory report with specific recommendations on the type of risk factors that are the most important, so we can establish the best way to assess aviation safety.

I realise that, with so many different countries involved, it’s difficult to decide what information should be shared in this system. This is how I see it: let’s start building the house now, and decide on the furniture along the way.

I’d like to thank ICAO and the industry partners for their timely and result-driven efforts. I call on the member states to maintain that momentum and clear the way for ICAO to set up this centralised information system and improve aviation safety.

Because that is why we’re here this week: to take steps towards safer international aviation. That is our mission. And it will be good for us to exchange our knowledge and experiences across the safety spectrum.

That is why the European countries have worked out their views on the various topics of the conference in detail. In proposals on improving information sharing among member states of the ICAO and on protecting information sources. The common theme in all these proposals is improving cooperation between member states and airlines. What is important to the European countries is that knowledge and experiences can be shared internationally so that we can work together constructively on safety.

My country is impatient. The memories of flight MH17 are still fresh. The need for action is evident. ICAO’s reputation gives us confidence. For more than 70 years, ICAO has shown leadership in international aviation. Lessons are learned from every incident and every disaster. New standards and procedures are agreed. And with success: flying is the safest way to travel.
But there are no guarantees. The MH17 disaster shows us that our work is never done. It shows us that we, the international aviation community, must fulfil that responsibility again and again. That we must look beyond our borders to continue improving aviation safety.

I say this as a politician, but even more as the representative of a country that has been confronted with the need for international cooperation in the worst possible way.
Thank you.