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An upcoming conference hosted by McGill's Institute of Air and Space Law will address issues that are literally over our heads, but that have a direct impact on how and where we travel, on our environment and on how personal information is used.
At the Worldwide Conference on Current Challenges in International Aviation, leading professionals will address cutting-edge issues of security, safety and finances to an audience of professionals working in the aviation industry, law, finance, public policy and politics.
This year is the first time that conference partner, the Interna-tional Civil Aviation Organization, has seen the need for a pre-conference debriefing session, but given the diversity and complexity of the issues facing airlines, it may not be the last.
Aviation issues weren't always a high priority in North America, explains Professor Paul Dempsey, director of McGill's Institute of Air and Space Law. "Previously, the United States in particular hadn't been very good about ratifying international aviation agreements." That all changed after 9-11. "The fact that the airline industry was grounded in North America for three days was an education for public policy-makers that the airline industry is absolutely essential for the economic well-being of countries. Infrastructure is taken for granted until you lose it."
The security issues that have arisen in the U.S. often conflict with other counties' national sovereignty.
"The United States has been very insistent on certain issues, and not just air marshals, but also air passenger manifests," Dempsey says, which include the names, itineraries and certain personal information about passengers. "There are concerns about the impact of the United States' demands for information vis-à-vis Canada's privacy laws."
And therein lies the question: How will nations maintain sovereignty over their airlines, their airspace, their citizens' private information and their environment as both the U.S. and the EU push for total access to international skies?
"They both want open skies everywhere... It's like the OK Corral," says Dempsey.
Ownership restrictions put in place partly to address national security issues have now led to an impasse between the U.S. and the EU on this issue.
Security may be the hot topic in North America, but safety is a serious problem. "Many developing countries don't have the financial resources to provide adequate safety." In the end, though, the concerns of the U.S. and other industrialized and developing nations are opposite sides of the same coin, says Dempsey. "Safety issues are issues of negligence, and security issues are issues of intent."
Then there are the environmental concerns. "Noise and emissions are very serious issues in air transportation." Yet paradoxically, he notes, "the technology that makes the engines quieter makes them pollute more. There are real questions as to aviation's contribution to global warming."
For more information, go to www.iasl.mcgill.ca/conferences, or call at 398-5095. A welcome reception will be held on Friday, September 24, from 7 to 9 pm at the Faculty of Law Atrium, 3660 Peel St.