More than any other form of transportation, aviation brings the world closer together--connecting people with far flung places in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. So, it's no surprise that some of the most important issues facing aviation today require a global perspective.
I was honored yesterday to represent the United States and President Obama at the 37th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). As a specialized agency of the United Nations with 190 member states, ICAO meets every three years to tackle major areas of interest in international civil aviation. This year, the Assembly will focus on safety, security, and environmental sustainability--issues we deal with every day at DOT.
On the safety front, I was pleased to sign an agreement in Montreal that will help make flying safer here in the United States and around the globe. In partnership with the Commission of the European Union, the International Air Transport Association, and ICAO, the U.S. Department of Transportation will participate in the new Global Safety Information Exchange--a safety database that will collect and share reports, analysis, and best practices.
By breaking down information barriers and encouraging collaboration between international aviation experts, this new system will provide a framework for spotting trends and reducing risks. Most importantly, it will help us figure out why things go wrong and how to prevent similar problems in the future.
Likewise, planning is critical to the success of our security and emergency preparedness efforts. As the devastating earthquake in Haiti proved, aviation can serve as a lifeline to people and communities in crisis. For several days, it was the only mode of transportation that could shuttle food, water, and medical supplies into the country.
This experience reminded us that aviation must be an integral part of every country's emergency preparedness and response procedures. This year's ICAO meeting will highlight the leadership role the organization plays in informing emergency planning efforts among its member states.
Also on the agenda for ICAO: encouraging sustainability and addressing the global climate crisis. While the aviation industry has already shown leadership by committing to freeze carbon emissions at 2020 levels, we can and must do more. Attendees at ICAO will explore the possibility of setting this baseline earlier and reducing greenhouse gases further.
A critical component in these efforts will be the modernization of our air traffic control systems. I've blogged frequently about the development of NextGen, which will reduce congestion, cut travel times, and shrink our carbon footprint. And as other regions upgrade their own systems, we'll increasingly rely on organizations like ICAO to ensure that we adopt basic standards and common practices that ensure continuity throughout the world.
Whether we're coordinating safety data, planning an emergency response, or creating a global navigation system, matters as important as safety, security, and environmental sustainability have no borders. Meetings like the ICAO Assembly give us a unique opportunity to collaborate and build relationships with our international neighbors in the aviation sector. And that benefits the entire global community.