Global Rules of the Road

Why ICAO matters even if you never leave Kansas

You’re en route to Europe on a trip that will involve multiple destinations before returning home. You have your oceanic clearance and have just passed 50 West. The cockpit conversation turns to contingency planning. Although you had, pre-departure, briefed ETP (Equal Time Points) for loss of engine or pressurization, you and your fellow pilot take time to review offset procedures in the unlikely circumstance you are forced to respond to one of a number of possible emergency scenarios.

The other pilot, who is just beginning to gain international flight experience with your department, asks what ATC you are operating under and what regulatory requirements pertain to this segment of the flight.

ICAO Building, Montreal
A recent meeting at ICAO headquarters in Montreal. Credit: ICAO

“We are talking to Gander on HF and will be until 30 West, then we will be under Shanwick’s control,” you respond but then hesitate regarding the rules of the air when outside the domestic airspace of a nation’s air traffic boundaries.

Put simply, the standards and recommended practices found within the 19 Annexes published by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) provide guidance for all 191 member nations to write their regulations for flight operations within the airspace over each sovereign nation. If your flight is outside of the boundary of all ICAO member states, such as over the North Atlantic, you are required to adhere to the ICAO standards and recommended practices (SARPS) for each specific function appropriate to your aircraft, crew and passengers (for example, Annex 2: Rules of the Air).

ICAO Chicago Convention 1944
Convention on International Civil Aviation (also know as Chicago Convention) was signed on Dec. 7, 1944, by 52 States. Credit: ICAO

As a highly respected chief pilot of a business aviation flight operation in the Southeastern U.S. revealed, “We carry Annex 2 and others in a drop box on our iPads and are familiar with many of the other documents, such as Doc 4444 and various PANS-OPS docs, but beyond that, we really don’t interact with ICAO in a deeper way.” (Note to readers: Look up ICAO Doc 4444; you’re likely to find it well worth your reading time. The sixteenth edition of 4444 was published in 2012.)

Standards and recommended practices are developed by ICAO to provide guidance for member states in their rulemaking regarding commercial and noncommercial aviation operations. While many aviation people in the U.S. infrequently or possibly never travel beyond its borders, the country is and has always been a key member of the world aviation community and its procedures and standards adhere to the international practices. In fact, the FAA, and its predecessor the Civil Aeronautics Administration, has used ICAO SARPS as the foundation for countless Federal Air Regulations since the end of World War II.
“ICAO is significant to a business aviation flight department that operates solely within the geographical boundary of their state of registry,” says Peter Ingleton, a director of the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) in Montreal who serves as liaison to ICAO, adding, “It is vitally important to one that operates outside of that boundary.”

History and Structure

In November 1944, with the outcome of the war seemingly assured in the Allies’ favor, representatives from 54 nations attended an International Civil Aviation Conference in Chicago. The purpose of what became known as, simply, the “Chicago Convention,” was to establish rules and standards by which countries might authorize best practices and regulations regarding the establishment of a civil aviation authority. This would not only facilitate flights within each country’s individual airspace but also serve to coordinate cross-border operations in a uniform and standardized manner. By the time the conference ended on Dec. 7, 1944, 32 nations had signed the Convention on International Civil Aviation and the foundation was laid for a common air navigation system around the world. ICAO was formally established in April 1947 and became a specialized agency of the United Nations.

ICAO consists of three main divisions: the Assembly, the Council and the Secretariat. The Assembly, which meets formally every three years, comprises representation by each of the 191 member states, a number of which maintain offices in the ICAO building in Montreal. The Assembly elects the Council, offers policy recommendations, approves budgetary plans and has the power to amend the ICAO constitution.

ICAO Assembly
A recent meeting at ICAO headquarters in Montreal. Credit: ICAO

The Council is made up of representatives from 36 member states, who are elected to three-year terms. Certain rules concerning geographic representation as well as the level of civil aviation activity govern who may be elected to the Council. The Council has a president and is the body within ICAO that adopts revisions to SARPS for each of the 19 ICAO Annexes. The Council may, “take whatever steps necessary to maintain the safety and regularity of operation of international air transport.” One of the subordinate bodies of the Council, the Air Navigation Commission (ANC), is primarily responsible for ICAO Annexes. In that regard the ANC reviews all proposals for amendment and submits vetted air navigation recommendations to the Council for consideration. Members of the ANC are appointed by the Council and nominated by their member states.

The Secretariat has various levels of aviation expertise that manage the organization’s day-to-day business and support functions. The secretary general of ICAO is responsible for the Secretariat and is appointed by the Council for a three-year term.

In addition to the headquarters building in Montreal, ICAO maintains regional offices in Bangkok, Cairo, Dakar, Lima, Mexico City, Nairobi and Paris. It is important to note that many aviation experts from the U.S. are among a multinational group actively employed by ICAO and focused on international aviation standards, not how those standards impact their own countries.

The Annexes

An ICAO Annex provides guidance for member states within each category of aeronautical information, listed below, phrased in the form of a “shall” statement (Standard), or a “should” statement (Recommended Practice). A Standard represents a requirement that member states are expected to incorporate within their rulemaking, whereas a Recommended Practice is suggested but not required to be incorporated. As a signatory to ICAO, a member state stipulates that it will apply ICAO SARPS within the body of its civil aviation rulemaking. A member state has the option of filing a difference (exception) to any ICAO standard and thus bypass the requirement. These differences are required to be notified to ICAO, which then publishes them.

  • Annex 1 — Personnel Licensing
  • Annex 2 — Rules of the Air
  • Annex 3 — Meteorological Service for International Air Navigation
  • Annex 4 — Aeronautical Charts
  • Annex 5 — Units of Measurement to Be Used in Air and Ground Operations
  • Annex 6 — Operation of Aircraft
  • Annex 7 —Aircraft Nationality and Registration Marks
  • Annex 8 — Airworthiness of Aircraft
  • Annex 9 — Facilitation
  • Annex 10 — Aeronautical Telecommunications
  • Annex 11 — Air Traffic Services
  • Annex 12 — Search and Rescue
  • Annex 13 — Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation
  • Annex 14 — Aerodromes
  • Annex 15 — Aeronautical Information Services
  • Annex 16 — Environmental Protection
  • Annex 17 — Security: Safeguarding International Civil Aviation Against Acts of Unlawful Interference
  • Annex 18 — Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by AirAnnex 19 — Safety Management

ICAO’s Impact on Business Aviation

Business aviation, both commercial and noncommercial, is influenced heavily by many of the ICAO Annexes. Reviewing the forgoing list provides an appreciation of the historic guidance from ICAO in the utilization of best practices and operational standards.
Of particular importance to business aviation operators is the information within Annex 6 (Operation of Aircraft), which is divided into three distinct parts. Criteria, through Annex 6, are established to provide “safe operating practices” for all aspects of flight operations worldwide.

Part I outlines SARPS for commercial flight operations including charter and the world’s airlines base their operational standards on it. From a business aviation perspective in the U.S., FAR Part 135 regulations are based upon a majority of SARPS within this section. Worldwide, Part I provides additional guidance for holders of an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC).

Part II addresses general aviation and contains SARPS specifically written to provide guidance for noncommercial business aviation. It became effective in 1969, but between then and 2003, 23 amendments were made to it. A discussion paper first drafted by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) in 2005 proposed an overhaul of Part II’s provisions pertaining to international operators of large or turbojet general aviation aircraft. The result was Part II’s Revision 27, which was approved by the ICAO Council and included the standard for those large or turbojet aircraft operators to implement an SMS.
And Part III focuses on helicopter operations.

IBAC represents the interests of business aviation worldwide at ICAO on behalf of 14 national and regional business aviation associations, the NBAA being the largest by far. Based at the ICAO building, IBAC is an “International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) with permanent observer status” at ICAO. It developed and is currently managing two business aviation standards of industry best practices, the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) and the International Standard for Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH), that feature an SMS validation process.

Beyond establishing and overseeing standards, IBAC serves as a technical advocate for business aviation when ill-considered demands surface. For example, at the end of 2013, civil aviation authorities responsible for international airspace above the South China Sea unilaterally imposed a requirement that aircraft flying there must be equipped with ADS-B and have an accompanying letter of authorization (LOA) from the operator’s state of registry. This action was taken without following established ICAO procedures for consultation regarding proposed requirements in international airspace.

Since several aviation regulatory authorities, including the FAA, were not issuing such LOAs, ADS-B-equipped business aircraft from those countries were suddenly being vectored off course or required to descend below FL 290 over the South China Sea, incurring additional time in flight and wasting fuel. (However, ops specs satisfied the requirement for airline aircraft.)

IBAC engaged ICAO headquarters in Montreal and its Asia-Pacific regional office, along with experts in the U.S. and Australia, in an effort to inform the national aviation authorities of their responsibilities under the Chicago Convention as providers of air navigation services and safety in international airspace. Moreover, IBAC explained that ADS-B, a passive technology, does not require an LOA as demonstrated by experience in Australia and supported by experts in the U.S. In the end, the regional ICAO gathering of directors general of civil aviation agreed with IBAC and recommended that an LOA need not be required for ADS-B operation in international airspace in the Asia-Pacific region.
Those kinds of actions have made an IBAC fan of NBAA President Ed Bolen. “In today’s global marketplace it would this global playing field. Because we need this presence, IBAC is particularly important. They are our ‘seat at the table.”

Meanwhile, ICAO’s reach has impacted business aviation operations far and wide. During the 1970s it became apparent that travel by both business and commercial aircraft across the North Atlantic was increasing at a rapid rate. In order to provide appropriate separation in this vital and increasingly crowded airspace, ICAO developed standards for performance-based navigation (PBN) for aircraft operating in the newly designated minimum navigation performance specification (MNPS) airspace.

This action represented a shift in navigation performance criteria from a sensor-based dependency to one that relied upon the aircraft’s capability to navigate accurately without receiving signals from ground-based systems. Reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) were first introduced within the North Atlantic track system and were eventually adopted and implemented worldwide.

When dealing with the myriad administrative and operational issues of a domestic business aviation department, it is easy to forget the foundations and institutional efforts of unnamed others that allow all of us to be employed in such a dynamic and often complex industry. In existence for 68 years , ICAO has provided civil aviation with global guidance for establishing standards in aircraft certification, licensing of pilots and maintenance technicians, aeronautical charts, passports, handling of passengers and cargo, aircraft registration, communications, security, handling of dangerous goods, search and rescue, aerodromes and safety management.

With nearly 200 nations as signatories to the ICAO Convention, it is an institution that truly facilitates the ability of aircraft to cross borders in safety. And in that assurance, the men and women of ICAO have proved themselves to be invaluable in the advance of civil aviation. BCA