(Unsplash/Joshua Hanson)

ICAO: Innovation and Digitalization Key to Aviation Recovery and Future

Addressing the Board of Directors meeting of the Aerospace Industries Association on May 19, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano said that the UN aviation agency’s Secretariat and governing Council “are acutely aware today of how important innovation will be to aviation recovery and sustainability in the pandemic’s aftermath.”

“This is why we’ve made the acceleration of effective standardization and regulation a highest priority for the coming years,” he emphasized, “so that the benefits of the numerous innovations on manufacturer drawing boards can be realized as quickly as prudent and possible for civil society and industry.”

President Sciacchitano expressed ICAO’s appreciation to the aerospace sector for the important contributions it has been making to the outcomes of the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force, or ‘CART’.

The Council President noted that the latest ICAO Economic Impact Analysis has revealed that international air transport is back to 2003 levels in terms of global seat capacity, and that while ICAO expects improvement in the global picture from the third quarter of 2021, it will be heavily dependent on the effectiveness of pandemic management and vaccination roll out.

“Some encouraging signs of recovery for international traffic have begun to emerge more recently, including via air travel corridors such as Australia and New Zealand have established,” he commented, “but admittedly these attempts are still being hampered at times by the unpredictable health factors which remain in play.”

President Sciacchitano updated the Board Members on the upcoming ICAO High-Level Conference on COVID-19, scheduled for this October, noting that the countries cooperating through ICAO clearly recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis – but also an economic and financial crisis, and one which presents governments with very difficult trade-offs in terms of the health, economic, and social priorities concerned.

“The High-Level Conference this October will address economic recovery priorities, seek to formalize new and stronger national commitments to assure that recovery, and feature specialized Safety streams where your community’s views will be appreciated,” he stated.

“We should recall in this respect that while the aerospace sector typically engages with national civil aviation authorities, the pandemic has now factored national health authorities into this framework as well. Your community will have a critical near-term role to play in assuring the more health-centric and disease-preventative cabin environment that governments, operators and passengers will be striving to assure for the post-pandemic air travel experience.”

The ICAO Council President further appreciated the many innovations which the aerospace sector is already helping to realize in renewable energy sources and new types of airframes and propulsion, noting that these will play a key role “in helping our sector meet the increasingly low-emission expectations of the post-pandemic passengers which airlines will be competing to attract.”

He underscored that he expected governments to arrive at the 42nd ICAO Assembly next year with clear expectations on what these health and environmental sustainability innovations will need to deliver, and on how the ICAO work programme will need to be tailored to aid that delivery.

The comments follow ICAO Secretary General Dr Fang Liu’s remarks at the International Transport Forum’s Summit on May 17.  “Travel consumers will want their long-term passenger experience to be tailored to defend better against infectious disease transmission, inclusive of contactless travel booking and boarding solutions, new types of combined health and security screening, and better-outfitted aircraft cabins,” Dr. Liu said. 

She added that all of these evolutions would rely heavily on sectoral innovation and digitalization, pointing out the advanced digital solutions for multimodal data and document exchange that are already beginning to significantly increase operational air cargo efficiencies to facilitate trade. 

In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been introducing credential authentication technology (CAT) for passengers at numerous airports, in addition to other pandemic measures. Designed to reduce touch points and enhance security, TSA has said the CAT units will soon be in operation at every federalized airport, from the largest to the smallest.

TSA is also currently evaluating developing biometric technologies and monitoring the evolution of digital credentials, like mobile driver’s licenses and digital passports.

The pandemic has provided the impetus for innovation. Travelers will be on the lookout for new health measures and will consequently be more accepting of emerging technology. Now is the time to incentivize innovation, as well as policy both in the U.S. and across the world, to ensure a safe and secure transportation process for decades to come.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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