It is crucial to reintegrate Taiwan into the ICAO
The extent of Taiwan’s involvement in civil aviation in East Asia makes its exclusion from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) mean-spirited and contrary to the fundamental principles of the United Nations and the world order. One can justify the isolation of a rogue regime, but Taiwan is an innovative export and research country and disproportionately dependent on air traffic to get its goods to market. Taiwan is also a busy air hub connecting other industrial centers along the East Asian coastline.
Taiwan’s seat in the world’s international institutions was replaced by Communist China in 1971. This change was influenced in part by Western interest in rehabilitate china at the height of the Cold War, when Beijing was seen as useful in counterbalancing the Soviet Union. But now is the time for the United States and its allies to reintegrate Taiwan into the framework of international institutions, especially those dealing with emerging technologies on which the safety of air passengers depends.
Taiwan is excluded from ICAO 41st Session of the Assembly, scheduled from Sept. 27 to Oct. 7, 2022, in Montreal. The organization is the primary forum for the formulation of aviation-related standards resulting from the accelerating pace of technological innovation. The theme of the session is “Reconnecting the World”, after the reduction in flights caused by the COVID, but its main focus will be questions reinforcing the priority of safety.
The exclusion of Taiwan Civil Aeronautics Administration means that Taipei will be prevented from contributing and coordinating issues related to technical interoperability, environmental standards, anti-terrorist, and new technological developments such as remotely operated vehicles and cybersecurity. Taiwan’s invitation and active participation in ICAO 38th Session of the Assembly in 2013 was welcomed by many United Nations Membersand set an important precedent for what was essentially an apolitical conference.
Despite the tensions, China has not excluded Taiwan from shared air traffic and policies to harmonize their procedures, given the obvious commercial benefits for Beijing. Air flights have been coordinated between the two countries since December 2008, and these have grown from three direct flight paths across the strait to involving 10 Taiwanese airports and five Chinese airports (Beijing, Shanghai Pudong, Chengdu and Xiamen). This interaction includes 890 passengers and 84 cargo flights per week, and highlights the security advantages that accrue to China.
Global air traffic control is managed by the 300 Flight information regions (FIR), comprising networks of radars and air traffic controllers. Taiwan is responsible for the Taipei FIR, overseeing 18 international and four flight routes for 1.85 million aircraft flights in 2019, in coordination with those of its neighbors, including China, Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines.
In 2019, Taiwan’s 17 airports saw nearly 72 million passengers, of which 49 million passed through Taoyuan International Airport, almost 5% more than in 2018. Taipei has air service Agreements with 57 countries, hosting 97 airlines with flights to Taiwan, on 324 routes and connecting 148 cities around the world. COVID has reduced these totals to 66 airlines
across 172 routes to 76 cities, but the numbers are expected to rebound. Taiwan’s China Airlines and EVA Airways ranked 30th and 40threspectively, in global passenger traffic.
In 2020 and 2021, Taiwanese air cargo reached totals of 2.44 and 2.92 million metric tons, respectively. Statistics from the Airport Council International indicate that in 2020, Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan handled the fourth largest volume of international air cargo in the world. 2020 statistics from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reveal that China Airlines and Taiwan’s EVA Airways were the fifth and 16th heaviest carriers respectively.
Taiwan’s exclusion from ICAO technical meetings – mainly at the behest of China and its few allies – may lead to delays in implementing security measures. The 2016 ICAO Air Cargo Security Guidance Policy and its 2017 provisions against portable lithium devices, were only brought to Taipei’s attention by its diplomatic allies within the organization. Similarly, the rapid evolution of ICAO’s policy on remote controlled vehicles forced Taiwan to anticipate the ICAO in formulating its own measurementsin this case in 2020.
Despite these difficulties, Taipei has always met ICAO requirements Standards and Recommended Practices. Its current effort is to develop a next-generation air traffic control automation system, to enable the Taipei FIR to remain interoperable until 2032 by meeting ICAO requirements. Global Air Navigation Plan and Aircraft System Block Upgrades.
Taiwan’s reintegration into ICAO would require the United States and its democratic allies to exert their influence on member states in the UN General Assembly and within the ICAO Secretariat, to mobilize vote for the opening of a re-invitation procedure from Taipei. Taiwan is already as integrated into the real day-to-day operation of air traffic coordination as China, but both countries will suffer easily avoidable consequences if Taiwan encounters a delay in implementing key security measures.
Julian Spencer ChurchillPh.D., is associate professor of political science at Concordia University, director of the Canadian Center for Strategic Studies and a former captain in the Canadian Forces. He has taught several aviation safety and security courses for CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority).