ICAO Launches Probe Of U.S. Aviation Safety Infrastructure

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The FAA reported yesterday (July 9) that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is initiating an audit of the U.S. civil aviation oversight system. According to a report by Reuters, the probe marks the first time ICAO has called for such a probe since 2007.

The two-week audit will involve 12 auditors from 10 countries and begin this week. The results are expected to be released in January. The FAA, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be under the microscope, along with other agencies involved in aviation matters in the U.S.

According to the Reuters report, 790 questions will examine eight separate areas of civil aviation legislation, regulation, accident history, incident investigation and air navigation systems. A positive score in the audit would enable the U.S. aviation infrastructure to “demonstrate leadership in meeting robust aviation safety standards and to encourage nations around the world to do the same,” according to the FAA.

The Reuters report cites FAA struggles with shortages of air traffic controllers that have contributed to a series of near-collisions—some blamed on controller error. It cites a staffing shortfall of 3,000 controllers causing mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to meet coverage.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I guess a little introspection never hurts. Keeps one from holding delusions of grandeur or excessive criticism.

    • It’s always useful to have a competent outsider review one’s work. An inspector is coming by today to look over my partially built experimental. I always learn something anytime a pro or another builder looks at my work.

  2. Be careful what you wish for, very few ICAO countries have a general aviation system that would compare with the US, and most ICAO countries don’t have the freedoms that we enjoy here in the US.

  3. I think the operative phrase here is “U.S. civil aviation oversight system”, not the system itself, per se. I wouldn’t expect much to result from it. The difference is the money spent on “oversight” vs. “execution”. Initially I thought, “Great! Now maybe we’ll get more money budgeted for more controllers.” But I’m not sanguine that anything tangible to us will result; just a lot of meetings held, paper generated, and reports buried.

  4. Canada just had their ICAO audit. It was devastatingly bad and a long overdue wake up call for what happens if the regulator isn’t adequately resourced.

  5. I wonder if in 2007 they realized people were flying around in antiques because the industry that once made advanced aircraft for personal use had been destroyed by FAA careerism and legal opportunism (including ambulance chasers, land grabs, and vote harvesting con men calling themselves politicians)?

  6. I suspect that this will involve very little with respect to general aviation. They will be looking at the production oversight of large commercial aircraft (i.e. Boeing), the overall air traffic control system, and the general staffing issues with FAA controllers. In other words, the things that have involved all the news headlines. Overpriced and antiquated GA aircraft aren’t what has been making the news for the past few years. My main concern is what mindset the “inspectors” will come in with. I have been involved with audits of ISO programs in the past (ISO 9002, ISO 14000). They were primarily paperwork reviews – seeing what written standards and procedures you have in place and how closely you follow those standards. If the inspectors come with an open mind knowing that the US aviation system is different and unique from theirs then they will find the obvious – that the FAA and ATC is understaffed and under funded, both in the realm of oversight of manufacturing as well as traffic management in the air. If they come in with the mindset that their systems are better than ours, we could have a problem. In that case, one of their recommendations will likely be to split off ATC into a private organization, like all European countries have, and start charging user fees to fund it. That could well be the death knell for GA as it has been overseas.

  7. That they’re doing this is a helluva indictment of a ‘system’ that purports to be the “gold standard” of aviation safety.

  8. We don’t need any foreign country to audit any of our aviation industries or agencies. Why do we welcome such things? Its not anything except they wanting to stick their noses into our business. International Civil Aviation Organization, kiss my you know what.

    • Do you want our airlines to be allowed out of the US? Then you work with international organizations.

  9. The FAA also audits other countries for compliance with ICAO safety standards. The FAA downgraded Mexico in May 2021 and restored Mexico’s higher rating in September, which allowed Mexican carriers to expand U.S. routes and add new service.

    The FAA has struggled with a persistent shortage of air traffic controllers and a series of near-miss incidents, including some blamed on controller errors.

    At several facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages. The FAA is short of staffing targets by about 3,000 controllers. Last month, the FAA said it was again extending cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports through October 2025, citing air traffic controller staffing shortages.

    Much of this ICAO audit of the present-day USA airspace system will focus upon FAA ATC controller shortages.

  10. Basically they look at everything the regulator does and asks 5 questions
    1) Is there a regulation covering the ICAO requirement for this
    2) Is there a policy document that explains how the regulation is going to be implemented
    3) Is there a documented process for completing the oversight of the regulation ( eg check sheets, flow charts, reporting chains etc)
    4) Do the people doing the work have the appropriate qualification and necessary specific training
    5) Is there a QA process to make sure it’s working

    When they started asking these questions of Transport Canada there were whole swaths of things TC was supposed to be doing but wasn’t because of staff shortages and unqualified management personnel who didn’t know what they didn’t know.

    Having a failed oversight process because of inadequate staffing and unresponsive management doesn’t mean that an accident is going to happen tomorrow, but it is exactly how you get airplanes built with unknown fail critical systems like MCAS or missing important bolts……

  11. Frank Tino is correct. The ICAO can launch a probe into U.S. aviation under the framework of the Chicago Convention, specifically through the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP). This program enables ICAO to audit and assess the safety oversight capabilities of its member states to ensure compliance with international aviation safety standards.

    If significant safety issues or non-compliance with ICAO standards are identified, ICAO has the authority to initiate a more in-depth probe or audit to address these concerns. This process is reciprocal, allowing the U.S. to investigate any of the other 192 ICAO member states under similar circumstances. Mexico serving as an example.

    (icao.int/safety/CMAForum/Shared%20Documents/6504_en-1.pdf)

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