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The benefits of inking ATS agreements

Thousands of agreements have been inked since the dawn of the aviation industry. Agreements between states, organizations, service providers, and every other stakeholders. They bind parties to specific actions or layout the terms for cooperation that have mutual benefits. Air Traffic Services should ink these too.




Last Friday, officials from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Jamaica Airports Authority inked an agreement to share best practices and technological developments. The agreement aims to promote cooperation concerning operational practices, to grow cargo and passenger traffic, airport planning and development as well as sharing market research through technical working groups and the exchange of educational visits.

That agreement could have been a handshake deal which signals a verbal commitment, but the agreement only becomes binding when it is documented and could be used as evidence in court or other legal spheres.

This is just one of thousands of agreements that was inked since the dawn of the aviation industry. Agreements between states, organizations, service providers, and every other stakeholders. They bind parties to specific actions or layout the terms for cooperation that have mutual benefits.

inking letters of agreement

The instrument may carry other names like memorandum of understanding, operations letter, exchange of notes, treaty, convention, protocol, declaration, charter, covenant, pact, or modus vivendi (manner of living) but these do not affect the agreement’s legal character.

In 1913, in what was probably the earliest such agreement, a bilateral Exchange of Notes was signed between Germany and France to provide for airship services. Fast forward to 1946 following World War II, the United Kingdom and the United States signed the Bermuda Agreement to regulate civil air transport between the two territories.

The Bermuda Agreement became models for the thousands of similar aviation industry agreements that were to follow. The value of these high level agreements easily translate when they are done at the micro level as well. Well known in realm of air traffic services (ATS) is the agreement between ATS units responsible for contiguous blocks or airspace.

But beyond other air navigation service providers (ANSPs), ATS units need cooperation with other stakeholders like meteorological services, communications agencies, airport management and other local government organizations.

The conflicting requirements of the civil users such as airline operators, fixed based operators (FBO), training establishments and private flying associations may create problems with ATS units and letters of agreement may be needed to resolve these.

Inking agreements provides a critical first step to resolving ATS problems. They are logical, clear cut, lists the obligations and responsibilities of each side and can be created relatively quickly. Although agreements are arrived at by consensus, ATS planners should be skilled in negotiations, be prepared to justify the ATS position with detailed and accurate data, and put forward compromise proposals to achieve an acceptable traffic management solution.

Although the International Civil Aviation Organization has guidance material for letters of agreements outlined in the ATS Planning Manual (Doc. 9426), I have heard superficial arguments that these do not work. I am certainly on the side of ICAO and am interested in seeing the empirical data that suggests that letters of agreement are of no value.

While I await the opposing data, I remain a strong proponent for inking agreements. In fact, I would venture further to suggest agreements with other seemingly mundane service providers like janitors and sanitation workers.

The benefits of written agreements are often inter-generational and ought not to suffer the faith of tribal knowledge. But beyond the futuristic value, in an industry that is fraught with risks, it may be wise to keep all options on the table until something is proven to be useless.

Now that I have chosen my side of the battle line, I would love to invite comments from the naysayers.


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About Wayne Farley

Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, an aviation safety evangelist who once made my living working in the control tower. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from the aviation world. After writing "13 Characteristics of an air traffic controller" in 2010, it went viral and established me as an unofficial ambassador for ATC.

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