A Personal View expressed by Jim Marriott

What does the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) do for aviation security and what more should it do?

It always seems appropriate to look at these questions because aviation security risks are always present, the management of these risks shapes all aspects of civil aviation, ICAO has an ambitious security mandate and it is always accountable.

Now, in the lead-up to ICAO’s Second Global Aviation Security Symposium and Second High-level Conference on Aviation Security, to be held consecutively at ICAO’s Headquarters in Montréal, Canada from 26 to 30 November 2018, there is no better time.

ICAO has among its five strategic objectives: “Enhance global civil aviation security and facilitation”. This places security firmly among the top priorities of the Organization and helps ensure that the prevention of unlawful interference with civil aviation is always front of mind. With good reason, ICAO recognises that security and facilitation are inseparable, and both are essential to counter-terrorism and to ensuring that the efficiency of civil aviation is optimised.

The ICAO Business Plan 2017-2019 tells us that continuous aviation security and facilitation improvements are the priority. The Organization’s goals focus on enhancing the capabilities of States to reduce the level of risk posed by existing, new and emerging threats to civil aviation and border integrity. It aims to achieve these goals through effective regulatory oversight frameworks and implementation of countermeasures and responses commensurate with the level of threat, as well as a harmonised global policy framework.

ICAO uses many tools for aviation security risk reduction. The Global Risk Context Statement provides a collaborative assessment of threats, vulnerabilities and consequences to inform policy-making at all levels. The Standards and Recommended Practices of Annex 17 together with relevant guidance material establish the common baseline security measures. Oversight audits of all States verify and report on implementation of Annex 17. Assistance and training activities as well as information-sharing platforms provide direct support in overcoming deficiencies. The ICAO Traveller Identification Programme helps assure the integrity of travel documents. ICAO’s latest tool, the Global Aviation Security Plan (GASeP), is a comprehensive framework for co-ordinated security enhancement, which is relevant to all aspects of civil aviation and its stakeholders.

These, and others, are sensible and essential practical programmes and activities that contribute to making steady progress in reducing vulnerabilities.

It is worth recalling at this point that terrorism is the principal security threat driving ICAO. While defining terrorism stirs endless debate, recognising the consequences of terrorism does not. Among them are the division – and widening of existing divisions – that terrorism creates between peoples, within and between States or regions, between the public sector and the private sector, and elsewhere. The divisions caused by terrorism destabilise governments, companies and citizens, create uncertainty, change agendas, divert resources from other purposes and in so many ways challenge the foundations on which progress is built. There are too many examples of these consequences arising from attacks and threats involving civil aviation.

…aviation security can polarise opinion and become a political lightening rod…

In the face of these unwanted consequences, the most important – and often overlooked – values that ICAO brings to aviation security are unity and action. Whether this is aimed at shedding light on the complexity of risks, streamlining or sharpening security measures, engaging key players, identifying means to address new threats or assisting states to do better in meeting their responsibilities, ICAO has been – and remains to be – in an essential and unique position. The importance of ICAO to success in aviation security has been underscored by the United Nations Security Council through its resolution 2309 (2016).

Fostering unity and mobilising action is not an easy task. Aviation security can polarise opinion and become a political lightening rod. Attitudes toward ‘security fatigue’, concern over the level of resources security consumes, incomplete information about risks and security methods, the complexity of risk management in a global environment, and political and policy strategy all inspire vigorous debate. Such debate must always be managed by ICAO so as to embrace the strength of diverse opinion that leads to innovation, consensus, commitment and results.

What more should ICAO – encompassing its Member States, governing bodies and Secretariat – do?

  1. Stay the course. The fundamentals for aviation security under ICAO’s mandate to be as effective as possible are in place. The GASeP is an excellent framework to guide progress and assess results.
  2. Cultivate unity at all times. The history of aviation security is full of quickly recognised unifying transformational events that have driven security enhancement progress, such as Air India 182, Lockerbie, 9/11, and the 2006 liquids and 2010 air cargo plots. But it is during periods of relative calm that the threat landscape can be rigorously assessed and security measures can be enhanced in a balanced and clear-thinking manner. Unity must be recognised as the leading strategic enabler of aviation security risk reduction.
  3. Create, renew and refresh incentives for States and all relevant entities to effectively and efficiently implement aviation security. Among other things, these must intensify political will, drive the allocation of resources, expand technical capabilities and build co-operative arrangements, the progress of which must be demonstrable and measurable.

Best wishes for a successful symposium and high-level conference.


Jim Marriott has over 32 years of experience in aviation security with Transport Canada and as ICAO’s Deputy Director, Aviation Security and Facilitation. He is currently an independent aviation security and facilitation consultant.