The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations. It changes the principles and techniques of international air navigation and fosters the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth. You can learn more about all the different member states from here.
It is funded and directed by 193 national governments to support their diplomacy and cooperation in air transport as signatory states to the Chicago Convention (1944).
Its core function is to maintain an administrative and expert bureaucracy (the ICAO Secretariat) supporting these diplomatic interactions and to research new air transport policy and standardization innovations as directed and endorsed by governments through the ICAO Assembly, or by the ICAO Council which the assembly elects.
Industry and civil society groups, and other concerned regional and international organizations, also participate in the exploration and development of new standards at ICAO in their capacity as ‘Invited Organizations’.
As new priorities are identified by these stakeholders, the ICAO secretariat convenes panels, task forces, conferences and seminars to explore their technical, political, socio-economic and other aspects. It then provides governments with the best results and advice possible as they collectively and diplomatically establish new international standards and recommended practices for civil aviation internationally.
Once governments achieve diplomatic consensus around a new standard’s scope and details, it is then adopted by those same 193 countries in order to bring worldwide alignment to their national regulations, helping to realize safe, secure and sustainable air operations on a truly global basis.
In addition to these core diplomatic and research capabilities, ICAO also serves as a critical coordination platform in civil aviation through its seven Regional Offices.
It also conducts educational outreach, develops coalitions, and conducts auditing, training, and capacity building activities worldwide per the needs and priorities governments identify and formalize.
Not a global regulator
The stipulations ICAO standards contain never supersede the primacy of national regulatory requirements. It is always the local, national regulations that are enforced in, and by, sovereign states, and which must be legally adhered to by air operators making use of applicable airspace and airports.
Contrary to many dramatic and media portrayals of UN agencies, they do not have any authority over national governments in the areas of international priority they are established for. Critiques of the UN are often rooted in allegations founded on fantastical capabilities and authorities that sovereign states would never assign to a multilateral organization.
ICAO is therefore not an international aviation regulator, just as INTERPOL is not an international police force. We cannot arbitrarily close or restrict a country’s airspace, shut down routes, or condemn airports or airlines for poor safety performance or customer service.
Should a country transgress a given international standard adopted through our organization, ICAO’s function in such circumstances, consistent with our core diplomatic capabilities and role, is to help countries conduct any discussions, condemnations, sanctions, etc., they may wish to pursue, consistent with the Chicago Convention and the Articles and Annexes it contains under international law.
The Vision and Mission of ICAO
Achieve the sustainable growth of the global civil aviation system.
To serve as the global forum of States for international civil aviation. ICAO develops policies and Standards, undertakes compliance audits, performs studies and analyses, provides assistance and builds aviation capacity through many other activities and the cooperation of its Member States and stakeholders.
In its ongoing mission to support and enable a global air transport network that meets or surpasses the social and economic development and broader connectivity needs of global businesses and passengers, and acknowledging the clear need to anticipate and manage the projected doubling of global air transport capacity by 2030 without unnecessary adverse impacts on system safety, efficiency, convenience or environmental performance, ICAO has established five comprehensive Strategic Objectives:
Enhance global civil aviation safety. This Strategic Objective is focused primarily on the State’s regulatory oversight capabilities. The Global Aviation Safety Plan (GASP) outlines the key activities for the triennium.
Air Navigation Capacity and Efficiency:
Increase the capacity and improve the efficiency of the global civil aviation system. Although functionally and organizationally interdependent with Safety, this Strategic Objective is focused primarily on upgrading the air navigation and aerodrome infrastructure and developing new procedures to optimize aviation system performance. The Global Air Navigation Capacity and Efficiency Plan (Global Plan) outlines the key activities for the triennium.
Security & Facilitation:
Enhance global civil aviation security and facilitation. This Strategic Objective reflects the need for ICAO’s leadership in aviation security, facilitation and related border security matters.
Economic Development of Air Transport:
Foster the development of a sound and economically-viable civil aviation system. This Strategic Objective reflects the need for ICAO’s leadership in harmonizing the air transport framework focused on economic policies and supporting activities.
Minimize the adverse environmental effects of civil aviation activities. This Strategic Objective fosters ICAO’s leadership in all aviation-related environmental activities and is consistent with the ICAO and UN system environmental protection policies and practices.