Since the last ICAO worldwide air transport Conference held in 1994, there have been significant developments on the air transport regulatory scene and in the industry. Much progress has been made in the liberalization of air transport regulation, on both bilateral and regional levels. By December 2000, nearly 80 "open skies" bilateral agreements had been concluded involving some 60 countries, with more than half of these agreements between developed and developing countries and 11 with developing countries as both partners. On the regional level, there were just two regional/sub-regional liberalization arrangements before the 1994 Conference (i.e. the European Union and the Andean Pact); since then, eight more arrangements have emerged with a worldwide dispersion (including, at the regional level, a liberalization agreement reached in 1998 by 16 Member States of the Arab Civil Aviation Commission, and the Yamoussoukro Ministerial decision of November 1999 for gradual liberalization amongst all 53 African States).
Another significant development is the increasing involvement of some other organizations in air transport matters, most notably the World Trade Organization (WTO-OMC). In 2000, the WTO-OMC launched a review process of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which includes an Air Transport Annex, with a view to the possible extension of its application. During the review process, there were some indications that some WTO-OMC Members are considering not only possible addition of certain further "soft" rights in the Air Transport Annex, such as "airport services", but also certain aspects of "hard" or traffic rights.
There were initiatives on air transport liberalization in other fora including: the development of a model bilateral and a multilateral agreement on the liberalization of air cargo transport by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the tabling in the WTO-OMC of a proposed Tourism Annex to the GATS which is supported by the World Tourism Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the recent signing of a plurilateral "open skies" agreement by five members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
The airline industry has also undergone major transformation in an increasingly competitive environment. Airline alliances, including codesharing arrangements, continue to proliferate, many involving cross equity investment. According to Airline Business magazine, by June 2000 there were 579 alliances among more than 200 airlines, with a wide variety of content and scope. Recent years have also seen the emergence of several competing global alliance groupings. There has also been a substantial increase in the use of leased aircraft. Furthermore, the advance of information technology has had a profound impact on the way the airlines conduct their business. In addition to the widespread use of computer reservation systems (CRSs), the use of the Internet and electronic ticketing are rising rapidly. All these developments have regulatory implications, some affecting market access, ownership and control, competition, safety, security or liability.
The use of competition laws in dealing with air transport activities has occurred with increasing frequency in recent years. Moreover, capacity constraints at airports and in airspace are becoming an increasing challenge to the continued growth of air transport, with knock-on effects worldwide. Environmental issues involving civil aviation including market-based options such as charges, taxes and emissions trading, have also drawn increasing attention by governments and other interested parties, bringing a new dimension to air transport regulation.
Against this background, there have been growing calls, by both governments and industry, for regulatory reform to move forward beyond the existing regulatory regime. Significantly, many have voiced a preference that it be coordinated at the worldwide level through ICAO rather than left to other bodies.
The events of 11 September 2001 in the United States have had a significant impact on the world economies and on civil aviation in particular. They have given rise to certain new issues such as war risk insurance, impact of enhanced security requirements on the industry, consumers, labour, etc. which need to be addressed. The Conference will provide an opportunity to examine all the pertinent and contemporary issues, including safeguards to ensure security and safety within a global framework for the progressive liberalization of air transport.