The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) - Activities
A. International Standards and Recommended Practices
By joining ICAO—that is, by accepting the Chicago Convention—states undertake to collaborate in securing the highest practicable degree of uniformity in regulations, standards, procedures, and organization in all matters in which such uniformity will facilitate and improve air navigation. Hence, one of ICAO's chief tasks is to adopt such international standards and recommendations and to keep them up-to-date through modifications and amendments.
A standard, as defined by the first ICAO Assembly, is "any specification for physical characteristics, configuration, material, performance, personnel, or procedures, the uniform application of which is recognized as necessary for the safety or regularity of international air navigation and to which member states will conform ." Standards may thus include specifications for such matters as the length of runways, the materials to be used in aircraft construction, and the qualifications to be required of a pilot flying an international route. A recommendation is any such specification, the uniform application of which is recognized as " desirable in the interest of safety, regularity, or efficiency of international air navigation and to which member states will endeavor to conform."
Preparing and revising these standards and recommendations is largely the responsibility of ICAO's Air Navigation Commission, which plans, coordinates, and examines all of ICAO's activities in the field of air navigation. The commission consists of 15 persons, appointed by the council from among persons nominated by member states. If the council approves the text, it is submitted to the member states. While recommendations are not binding, standards automatically become binding on all member states, except for those who find it impracticable to comply and file a difference under Article 38 of the Chicago Convention.
Annexes to the Chicago Convention
The various standards and recommendations that have been adopted by ICAO are grouped into 18 annexes to the Chicago Convention. The aim of most of the annexes is to promote progress in flight safety, particularly by guaranteeing satisfactory minimum standards of training and safety procedures and by ensuring uniform international practices. The 18 annexes are the following:
- Personnel Licensing—licensing of flight crews, air traffic controllers, and aircraft maintenance personnel.
- Rules of the Air—rules relating to the conduct of visual and instrument flights.
- Meteorological Services—provision of meteorological services for international air navigation and reporting of meteorological observations from aircraft.
- Aeronautical Charts—specifications for aeronautical charts for use in international aviation.
- Units of Measurement—dimensional systems to be used in air-ground communications.
- Operation of Aircraft. Part I: International Commercial Air Transport; Part II: International General Aviation; Part III: International Operations–Helicopters. These specifications will ensure in similar operations throughout the world a level of safety above a prescribed minimum.
- Aircraft Nationality and Registration Marks—requirements for registration and identification of aircraft.
- Airworthiness of Aircraft—certification and inspection of aircraft according to uniform procedures.
- Facilitation—simplification of customs, immigration, and health inspection regulations at international airports.
- Aeronautical Telecommunications—standardization of communications equipment and systems and of communications procedures.
- Air Traffic Services—establishment and operation of air traffic control, flight information, and alerting services.
- Search and Rescue—organization and operation of facilities and services necessary for search and rescue.
- Aircraft Accident Investigation—uniformity in the notification, investigation, and reporting of aircraft accidents.
- Aerodromes—specifications for the design and equipment of aerodromes.
- Aeronautical Information Services—methods for the collection and dissemination of aeronautical information required for flight operations.
- Environmental Protection. Vol. I: Aircraft Noise—specifications for aircraft noise certification, noise monitoring, and noise exposure units for land-use planning; Vol. II: Aircraft Engine Emissions—standards relating to vented fuel and emissions certification requirements.
- Security—specifications for safeguarding international civil aviation against acts of unlawful interference.
- Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air—specifications for the labeling, packing, and shipping of dangerous cargo.
B. Air Navigation
It is evident that air navigation covers an extremely broad spectrum of activities, ranging from short take-off and landing airplanes to supersonic transports, from security questions to the impact of aviation on the environment, from training and operating practices for pilots to the facilities required at airports.
ICAO's program regarding the environment provides a case in point. Growing air traffic and increased use of jet engines have heightened public awareness of the environmental impact of civil aviation. In 1968, ICAO instituted activities aimed at reducing aircraft noise. The first measures involved development of inter-nationally agreed standards for the noise certification of aircraft (contained in Vol. I of Annex 16 to the Chicago Convention), which resulted in a quieter generation of jet aircraft.
Comparable studies of aviation's share in air pollution have resulted in the development of standards (Vol. II of Annex 16) relating to the control of fuel venting and of smoke and gaseous emissions from newly manufactured turbojet and turbofan engines for subsonic airplanes.
Concern about the continuing threat of violence against international civil aviation and its facilities, including the unlawful seizure and the sabotage of aircraft, led to adoption by the council of Annex 17 to the Chicago Convention, containing standards and recommended practices aimed at safeguarding international civil aviation against acts of unlawful interference. In addition, comprehensive guidance material on the subject has been developed. As part of its continuing effort to improve air safety, ICAO has adopted standards for the safe transport of dangerous goods by air. These form Annex 18 to the Chicago Convention. ICAO studies many other important subjects, such as all-weather operations, supersonic operations, application of space techniques to aviation, automated-data interchange systems, and visual aids.
C. Facilitation of International Air Transport
From the beginning of ICAO's history, the need to facilitate international air transport—to remove obstacles that would impede the free passage of aircraft, passengers, crew, baggage, cargo, and mail across international boundaries—was evident. This need is inherent in the speed of air travel itself; if, for example, customs, immigration, public health, and other formalities require one hour at each end of a transoceanic flight of six hours, the total duration of the trip is increased by 33%.
ICAO has therefore developed, over the years, a comprehensive facilitation program that is reflected in the international standards and recommended practices of Annex 9 to the Chicago Convention, as well as in the recommendations and statements of the ICAO Council and the Facilitation Division. Broadly speaking, the program aims at eliminating all nonessential documentary requirements, simplifying and standardizing the remaining forms, providing certain minimum facilities at international airports, and simplifying handling and clearance procedures. The program is concerned with such measures as liberalization of visa requirements and entry procedures for temporary visitors; the development of machine-readable passports and visas; speedy handling and clearance procedures for cargo, mail, and baggage; and the elimination, as far as possible, of requirements for documentation or examination in regard to transit traffic.
In addition to reducing procedural formalities, ICAO's efforts are aimed at providing adequate airport terminal buildings for passengers and their baggage and for air cargo, with all related facilities and services. Special attention is given to improving the accessibility of air transport to elderly and disabled passengers. The continuous growth in air traffic makes it necessary for airport administrations to review the adequacy of their facilities at regular intervals. When modifications in existing terminals or the building of new ones are contemplated, close coordination and cooperation between planners and users must be established from the earliest moment, even before any design is made. Proper airport traffic flow arrangements, with a sufficient number of clearance channels, baggage delivery positions, and cargo handling facilities, are necessary for the speedy processing of traffic through clearance control.
D. Regional Planning for Air Navigation
While worldwide uniformity is desirable for certain matters pertaining to civil aviation, others are best approached on a regional basis, since operating conditions vary a great deal from region to region. In the North Atlantic region, for example, long-range ocean flying predominates, whereas in Europe many international flights are short overland jumps. To deal with these different conditions and to facilitate detailed planning, ICAO has mapped out the following regions: Asia/Pacific, Middle East, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, South America, North Atlantic, and North America, which all have Planning and Implementation Regional Groups (PIRGs). At meetings held for each of them, detailed plans are drawn up for the facilities, services, and procedures appropriate to that region. The regional plans specify the air navigation facilities and services that are required, and the locations where they are required, for communications, air traffic control, search and rescue, meteorology, and so on. ICAO's plans for the nine regions are regularly revised or amended to meet the needs of increasing traffic and to take into account technical developments in civil aviation.
ICAO's regional offices are its principal agents in advising and assisting states in regard to implementation. The offices direct as much of their resources as possible to giving practical help, among other ways through frequent visits to states by members of the technical staff. In addition, ICAO allots funds for long-duration advisory implementation missions to help member countries overcome local deficiencies.
Shortcomings are taken up by the regional offices and the ICAO secretariat with the governments concerned. More complex cases may require study by the Air Navigation Commission and, if necessary, by the ICAO Council. The problem of eliminating deficiencies in navigational services and facilities is one that ICAO considers critical.
The major difficulties are lack of funds for facilities and services, a shortage of trained personnel, and administrative and organizational difficulties. ICAO has encouraged governments to upgrade their facilities through loans for capital expenditures, technical assistance, and other means. It also produces manuals and other documentation to assist states in setting up aviation training programs for flight and ground personnel and offers advice on maintenance and improvement of technical standards.
E. Jointly Operated or Financed Services
Under the Chicago Convention, every ICAO member state is required to provide air navigation facilities and services on its own territory. Navigational facilities and services must also be provided for air routes traversing the high seas and regions of undetermined sovereignty. The ICAO Council is constitutionally authorized at the request of a member state to "provide, man, maintain, and administer any or all of the airports and other air navigation facilities, including radio and meteorological services, required in its territory for the safe, regular, efficient, and economical operation of the international air services of the other contracting states." The council also may act on its own initiative to resolve a situation that might impair the "safe, regular, efficient, and economical operation" of international air services. Although ICAO has not yet undertaken the actual supervision of any nation's international air navigation facilities and services, two international agreements are in effect to furnish such services and facilities in parts of the North Atlantic region through socalled "joint-support" programs.
Under these joint-support agreements, the nations concerned provide services, facilities, or cash payments based on the use by their own aircraft of the routes involved. The two existing agreements are the Agreement on the Joint Financing of Certain Air Navigation Services in Greenland and the Faroe Islands and the Agreement on the Joint Financing of Certain Air Navigation Services in Iceland.
The vast majority of aircraft that utilize the special traffic-control, navigational, and meteorological services furnished from Iceland and Greenland for transatlantic crossings are neither Icelandic nor Danish. Hence, some 20 countries, including Iceland and Denmark, provide the funds necessary for the operation of these services.
ICAO administers these two agreements, the Secretary General having certain responsibilities and the ICAO Council having others. A special standing body, the Committee on Joint Support of Air Navigation Services, advises the council in these matters. The operation and costs of the services are constantly reviewed, and international conferences are held. In the early 1970s, charges for the use of the aeronautical facilities and services were imposed on all civil aircraft crossing the North Atlantic. These "user charges" covered only 40% of the costs allocable to civil aviation but were increased to 50% for the years 1975 to 1978, 60% for 1979 and 1980, 80% for 1981, and 100% thereafter.
F. Technical Assistance
In recognition of the importance of the airplane for international and domestic transport in countries where road and railway services are lacking, and as a means of aiding these countries in their social and economic development, ICAO has, from its inception, operated technical assistance programs through UNDP and other UN organs.
Assistance programs executed by ICAO fall into three main categories. UNDP obtains its funds from donor countries and allocates these funds among recipient countries in the form of country, intercountry, and interregional projects. The Funds-in-Trust program provides financial assistance for specific projects in the country receiving the technical assistance. The Associate Experts program provides experts from certain countries to work under ICAO guidance.
Each civil aviation project may include one or more of the following forms of assistance: experts to provide specialist advice to the civil aviation administration or national airline; fellowships to allow nationals to be trained abroad in civil aviation disciplines, often at civil aviation training centers that have been established through ICAO technical assistance; and equipment, such as radio navigational aids or communication facilities, to ensure safe and regular air service.
Fellowships have been awarded in many fields, including training as pilots, aircraft maintenance technicians, air traffic controllers, radio and radar maintenance technicians, communication officers, airport engineers, electronics engineers, air transport
ICAO Contracting States
(as of December 1998)
Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Central African Republic
Congo, Deomocratic Republic of the
Federated States of Micronesia
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
Korea, Republic of
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Moldova, Republic of
Papua New Guinea
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
São Tomé and Príncipe
Syrian Arab Republic
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United Republic of Tanzania
economists, aeronautical information officers, aeronautical meteorologists, aviation medicine specialists, accident investigation experts, flight operations officers, airport fire officers, and instructors.
Major types of equipment provided include air traffic control, radar, and flight simulators; training aircraft; radio communication and radar systems; distance-measuring equipment; very high frequency omni radio ranges; instrument landing systems; nondirectional beacons; "navaid" flight-test units; airworthiness data-acquisition systems; language laboratories; audiovisual aids; visual approach slope indicator systems; and firefighting vehicles.
Major training institutions assisted by ICAO include civil aviation training centers in Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Singapore, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, and Tunisia.
G. International Conventions Prepared Under ICAO
The increasing number of incidents of unlawful interference with civil aviation, beginning in the 1960s—aircraft hijacking, the placing of bombs on board aircraft, and attacks on aircraft, passengers, and crew members at airports—led to the adoption of three conventions.
- The Tokyo Convention of 1963. The Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft does not define specific offenses, but it does have the virtue of ensuring that there will always be a jurisdiction (namely, that of the state of registry of the aircraft) in which a person who has committed an offense on board an aircraft can be tried. The convention also provides for the powers and duties of the aircraft commander and others respecting restraint and disembarkation of the suspected offender. It provides a detailed code of behavior for states in whose territory the suspected offender has disembarked and also stipulates the steps to be taken in the event of the hijacking of an aircraft.
- The Hague Convention of 1970. The Convention for the Suppression of the Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft defines the offense of unlawful seizure and provides for universal jurisdiction over, and arrest and custody of, the suspected offender. It also stipulates that prosecution or extradition of the suspected offender should take place without many restrictions.
- The Montreal Convention of 1971. The Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation defines a number of acts of unlawful interference directed against international civil aviation. It provides for universal jurisdiction over the offender and, in general, contains rules for custody, extradition, and prosecution similar to those in the Hague Convention.
All three conventions are concerned with the preservation of the means of international communication and provide specifically that in the case of the unlawful seizure of an aircraft, any contracting state in which the aircraft or its passengers or crew are present shall facilitate the continuation of the journey of the passengers and crew as soon as practicable and shall return the aircraft and its cargo to the person lawfully entitled to possession.
The cooperative international action contemplated by the Tokyo, Hague, and Montreal conventions is intended to eliminate safe havens for hijackers and saboteurs.
Two additional international instruments in the field of aviation security have been developed under the auspices of ICAO.
- The Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation . The protocol was signed at Montreal on 24 February 1988 and came into force as of 6 August 1989. This protocol adds to the definition of "offence" given in the Montreal Convention of 1971, including actions that are likely to endanger airport safety. It establishes universal jurisdiction over the offender and applies the Montreal Convention's rules of custody, extradition, and prosecution.
- The Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purposes of Detection , opened for signature at Montreal in 1991 and came into force on 21 June 1998. This convention requires that each state party prohibit and prevent the manufacture of unmarked plastic explosives. Four detection agents are defined in the convention's technical annex. The convention also requires each state party to prevent the movement of unmarked explosives out of its territory. It also provides for the destruction of certain kinds of existing stocks of plastic explosives.
Regime and Liability of Air Carriers
Much of ICAO's work has been devoted to keeping up-to-date the regime and limits of liability of air carriers in the case of death of, or injury to, passengers and in the carriage of cargo and postal items by air.
- The Warsaw Convention of 1929. The Convention on the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, adopted during the early days of aviation, dominated the field of aviation passenger liability for almost half a century. It limits the liability, except in cases of gross negligence on the part of the carrier, to a maximum of 125,000 Poincaré gold francs (about US$ 10,000). The Hague Protocol of 1955 doubled the existing limits of liability. In 1971, by the Guatemala City Protocol, the rule of the Warsaw Convention based on presumption of fault yielded to strict liability, irrespective of fault. However, it will be some time before the 1971 protocol comes into force because at least 30 states, including five with major air traffic, must ratify it. (As of May 2002, only 7 states had ratified the protocol). An interesting feature of the Guatemala City Protocol is that although it provides for a limit of about US$ 100,000 per passenger, there is also provision for a domestic supplement if a state that is party to the protocol wishes to have a higher limit.
- In 1975, an International Conference on Air Law, convened under the auspices of ICAO, adopted new amendments to the Warsaw Convention, as amended by the Hague Protocol. Under the new provisions, the carrier is responsible for cargo damage, irrespective of fault. Another major change concerns the method of calculating the liability limits by turning from a solely gold monetary basis to a dual system, allowing countries that are members of the IMF to base passenger, baggage, and cargo liability on Special Drawing Rights, whereas countries not members of the IMF would declare liability limits in monetary units based on gold.
- The Guadalajara Convention of 1961. The Guadalajara Convention, supplementary to the Warsaw Convention, contains rules with regard to carriage performed by other than the contracting carrier, that is to say, by a carrier that had not issued the ticket to the passenger, or the air waybill to the consignor. In this case, both the contracting carrier and the actual carrier would be held jointly and severally liable under the Warsaw Convention or that convention as amended by the Hague Protocol.
- The Rome Convention of 1952. The Convention on Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third Parties on the Surface includes the principle of absolute liability of the aircraft operator for damage caused to third parties on the surface but places a limitation on the amount of compensation, expressed in Poincaré gold francs and calculated in relation to the aircraft concerned. However, a diplomatic conference convened in 1978 under ICAO auspices adopted a protocol for the amendment of the Rome Convention. The basic feature of the protocol is a substantial increase in the limits of liability and the expression of the limits in the Special Drawing Rights of the IMF.
- The Geneva Convention of 1948. The Convention on the International Recognition of Rights in Aircraft was prepared in order to promote the use of loans in financing the sale of aircraft by providing protection of the lender's rights in an aircraft whenever the aircraft is in the territory of another state that is party to the Geneva Convention.
Other legal subjects on ICAO's work program include the establishment of a legal framework for global navigation of satellite systems; expediting the ratification of Montreal protocols Nos. 3 and 4 of the "Warsaw System"; study of the instruments of the "Warsaw System"; liability rules that might be applicable to air traffic services providers; and the implication of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea for the application of ICAO's Chicago Convention.