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Published: Friday July 25, 2014 MYT 6:36:11 AM
Updated: Friday July 25, 2014 MYT 6:36:11 AM

Exclusive: U.N. aviation body to hold safety meeting with IATA, others - sources

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The U.N. civil aviation agency will hold a broad international meeting to discuss airline safety in the industry's most coordinated response to the downing of a Malaysian airliner, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The meeting of ICAO and top officials from the airline industry and air traffic controllers, to be held in Montreal next week, comes amid growing calls for action to prevent a repeat of last week's incident, which killed 298 people.

But both sources said it was not immediately clear what action would result from the meeting, given the agency's limited operational role.

And the United States, home to the world's biggest domestic aviation market, quickly dampened expectation of any major changes to the way global aviation is organized.

The Montreal meeting will group top officials from the International Civil Aviation Organization as well as International Air Transport Association and other agencies, the two sources said.

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down last week over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-speaking separatists. Industry figures have since urged ICAO to take on a bigger role and issue risk advisories.

ICAO, IATA, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization and Airports Council International will discuss the respective roles of each in airspace over conflict zones, the sources said.

"The idea is for the partners to discuss solutions," said one aviation industry source close to ICAO, who spoke on condition of anonymity. A spokesman for ICAO said a meeting was under discussion but had not been confirmed. IATA in Geneva declined to comment.

Two ICAO representatives said the MH17 incident had sparked internal debate on whether the agency could one day provide risk advisories, although they did not expect to see any imminent changes. Member states have ultimate control over their own airspace and may be reluctant to hand over power to ICAO.

In an indication of possible resistance, the United States made clear it was currently "not seeking changes" to ICAO's guidelines" after the MH17 disaster and the disappearance of another Malaysian Airlines plane in March.

The March incident prompted calls for improvements in the way planes are tracked.

"We plan to participate in any ICAO-led reviews related to these events to determine whether changes are called for," a senior State Department official told Reuters.

Other hurdles include concerns over potential liability - whether ICAO could be held responsible for an incident in a sector of airspace it had not issued a warning about.

Expanding ICAO's role would require the agency to obtain sensitive information from its member states about their internal military and political affairs.

"ICAO doesn't have a view on political disputes," said a national representative to the agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

"That said, it's not impossible to do and it is certainly worth looking at."

SECURITY PROTOCOLS

Tim Clark, president of Dubai's Emirates [EMIRA.UL], told Reuters on Sunday he wanted an international conference of carriers to agree a response to the disaster, a call backed by Lufthansa.

Clark told CNN on Wednesday the airline industry needed to examine the growing risks from regional conflict and questioned whether all airlines, particularly those from smaller countries, were receiving the same degree of intelligence-sharing about possible threats.

He said the aim of such a conference would be to look at standards and security protocols.

    "I'm hoping in the next few weeks ... that we can get around the table and at least start having some brainstorming sessions to see what can be improved," he said.

In a policy paper issued last year, ICAO urged its member states to report and share information regarding security risks such as terrorist threats and portable air-defense systems.

ICAO has yet to convene an emergency meeting of its executive council over the Malaysian Airlines incident, a step it took after a Soviet jet shot down a South Korean airliner in 1983 and a U.S. cruiser downed an Iranian passenger jet in 1988.

Increasing ICAO's role would require amendments to the Chicago Convention, under which the agency was set up in 1947.

A third source close to ICAO noted that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had control over U.S. airspace and airlines but could not tell other national carriers what to do.

"Treaty law is much more complex and at its heart in Article 1 of the Chicago Convention is that every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory," the source said.

(Writing by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Amran Abocar, Meredith Mazzilli, Bernadette Baum and Mohammad Zargham)

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