Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, distinguished colleagues: I’m honored to represent the United States and President Obama at this 37th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Sixty-six years ago this November, delegates from 52 countries pledged that they would use the emerging power of flight – and I quote – to “preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world.” In so doing, they established this remarkable institution. And during the last year, I’ve been privileged to see its promise in action.
In the weeks after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, aviation served as a lifeline to people and communities suffering on the ground. For several days, it was the only mode of transportation that could shuttle food, water, and medical supplies into the country. In April, I had a chance to visit with FAA officials at the Port Au Prince airport. They had flown in a small, portable air traffic control tower – and constructed makeshift, plywood living quarters where they stayed. I watched as they guided planes in and out of the city.
Their tireless work achieved tremendous good. It also painted a striking contrast: At the same time as we saw human tragedy at its worst, we saw aviation at its best. And we were reminded that aviation must be an integral part of every country’s emergency preparedness and response efforts – which is why it’s important that ICAO plays a leadership role in informing emergency planning efforts among its member states.
Now, as an international alliance – and as individual countries – our principal responsibility is safety. So, while aviation remains the world’s single safest form of transportation, we all can and must do more. First, we all should support ICAO’s transition to a continuous monitoring approach, which will help us improve ongoing safety compliance among the aviation systems of member states. Second, we must do a better job of sharing data so we understand both what goes wrong and why it goes wrong. Doing so gives us the ability to fix problems and improve safety for everyone.
We also must work together to address the global climate crisis. The good news is ICAO has made significant progress on this front during the last two years. But I hope we can come to some agreement on two issues at this meeting: One -- Can we adopt more ambitious goals for the aviation sector’s reduction of carbon emissions? Two -- Can market-based measures help us to do so for international aviation?
We believe the answer is yes to both questions. We applaud the aviation industry’s commitment to freeze carbon emissions at 2020 levels, but believe that ICAO is exactly the right forum to explore the possibility of setting the baseline earlier and reducing greenhouse gasses further. And we’re optimistic that ICAO is exactly the right forum to agree on principles in applying emissions trading to aviation.
Finally, I’d like to say a word about the modernization of air traffic control systems. As you know, we’re developing NextGen in the United States. It will make our tarmacs and skies less congested. It will cut travel times and alleviate delays. It will make the industry’s carbon footprint smaller. And it will help the civil aviation sector to become more efficient and competitive.
But whether we’re talking about NextGen or its European, Chinese, or other counterparts, ICAO must ensure that we’re moving toward a seamless global navigation system with basic standards and common practices. This is an essential task for ICAO – and one that deserves the support of all its member states.
So, colleagues, let me close with this: Every three years, ICAO gives us the chance to come together in the same spirit of cooperation as our predecessors initially did almost seven decades ago. On behalf of President Obama, I’m pleased to say that the United States is committed to making the most of this opportunity. We look forward to working with all of you during the next two weeks to make this a most successful assembly.
Thank you for your continued partnership in making the world’s skies even safer. With that, Mr. President, I humbly request that an additional allotment of time be granted to my distinguished colleague in the cabinet, United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.