International Air Transport Association (IATA) officials say airlines require the caliber of state-acquired intelligence to decide when and where aircraft should not be flying. 

“We’re not in the intelligence gathering business,” Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada CEO and chairman of IATA Board of Governors, says. “We rely on governments to do that.”

Rovinescu made the comments at IATA’s AVSEC World conference in Washington, D.C., Oct.27, where a key topic is changes that will be made after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the Ukraine on July 17. Soon after the crash, the International Civil Aviation Organizaton (ICAO) launched a task force to study what information airlines should be receiving from governments when flying over or near known conflict zones within or near their borders. IATA is participating in the task force.

IATA also is leading an ongoing task force investigating ways for airlines to better track their aircraft, a group convened after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on Mar. 8, 2014. The tracking task force made its first report to ICAO earlier this month, with officials saying that the near-term plan continues to be for airlines to use equipment already on board to enhance tracking over oceanic and remote areas. ICAO is on the tracking task force.

MH17 was flying in approved airspace above restricted areas over the Ukraine that day when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, although definitive proof of who launched the missile has not been determined by the Dutch-led investigation.

Rovinescu says Air Canada had been avoiding that airspace for six weeks when the crash occurred. It’s decision was based on “anecdotal” information from several sources, including news outlets and private sources. However, he says the rerouting for Air Canada was simpler than for other carriers, as it resulted in only a “minor diversion” to avoid the conflict area, with delays of “several” minutes per flight. “It’s not a replacement for government-level intelligence,” he says of Air Canada’s security group’s information that led to the diversions.

Tony Tyler, IATA director general, says the conflict zone task force met twice in August and has initiated a work program. A key piece of that program is an upgrade to the international Notices to Airmen (Notam) program that would “reflect content related to conflict zones”. How state-gathered information would be captured for the Notams was not discussed, although IATA had earlier said that public sources of information, including news outlets, would be one of the elements in the system. Tyler says the aviation system isn’t broken when it comes to security, but he says, “there are gaps or a gap.”

Editor's Note: this article has been updated to clarify the roles of IATA and ICAO on the two task forces discussed.