Making an ICAO Standard

Why are Standards Necessary?
Forms of Standards and Recommended Practices
Origin of Proposals for SARPs
Development of SARPs
Review of Draft SARPs
Adoption/Publication of Annex Amendments
Approval/Publication of other Annex Material and Procedures
Implementation of SARPs/Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme

Last updated on: 1 November 2011

Why are Standards Necessary?

Civil aviation is a powerful force for progress in our modern global society. A healthy and growing air transport system creates and supports millions of jobs worldwide. It forms part of the economic lifeline of many countries. It is a catalyst for travel and tourism, the world's largest industry. Beyond economics, air transport enriches the social and cultural fabric of society and contributes to the attainment of peace and prosperity throughout the world.

Twenty four hours a day, 365 days of the year, an aeroplane takes off or lands every few seconds somewhere on the face of the earth. Every one of these flights is handled in the same, uniform manner, whether by air traffic control, airport authorities or pilots at the controls of their aircraft. Behind the scenes are millions of employees involved in manufacturing, maintenance and monitoring of the products and services required in the never-ending cycle of flights. In fact, modern aviation is one of the most complex systems of interaction between human beings and machines ever created.

This clock-work precision in procedures and systems is made possible by the existence of universally accepted standards known as Standards and Recommended Practices, or SARPs. SARPs cover all technical and operational aspects of international civil aviation, such as safety, personnel licensing, operation of aircraft, aerodromes, air traffic services, accident investigation and the environment. Without SARPs, our aviation system would be at best chaotic and at worst unsafe.



Forms of Standards and Recommended Practices

Seventeen out of nineteen Annexes to the Convention are of a technical nature and therefore fall within the responsibilities of the Air Navigation Bureau and its sections. The remaining two Annexes, Facilitation and Security, are under the purview of the Air Transport Bureau. Since the majority of the Annexes concern technical issues, it is focused on them when the development process is described.

ICAO standards and other provisions are developed in the following forms:

  • Standards and Recommended Practices - collectively referred to as SARPs;
  • Procedures for Air Navigation Services - called PANS;
  • Regional Supplementary Procedures - referred to as SUPPs; and
  • Guidance Material in several formats.

A Standard is defined as any specification for physical characteristics, configuration, material, performance, personnel or procedure, the uniform application of which is recognized as necessary for the safety or regularity of international air navigation and to which Contracting States will conform in accordance with the Convention; in the event of impossibility of compliance, notification to the Council is compulsory under Article 38 of the Convention.

A Recommended Practice is any specification for physical characteristics, configuration, material, performance, personnel or procedure, the uniform application of which is recognized as desirable in the interest of safety, regularity or efficiency of international air navigation, and to which Contracting States will endeavour to conform in accordance with the Convention. States are invited to inform the Council of non-compliance.

SARPs are formulated in broad terms and restricted to essential requirements. For complex systems such as communications equipment, SARPs material is constructed in two sections: core SARPs - material of a fundamental regulatory nature contained within the main body of the Annexes, and detailed technical specifications placed either in Appendices to Annexes or in manuals.

The differences to SARPS notified by States are published in Supplements to Annexes.

Procedures for Air Navigation Services (or PANS) comprise operating practices and material too detailed for Standards or Recommended Practices - they often amplify the basic principles in the corresponding Standards and Recommended Practices. To qualify for PANS status, the material should be suitable for application on a worldwide basis. The Council invites Contracting States to publish any differences in their Aeronautical Information Publications when knowledge of the differences is important to the safety of air navigation.

The provisions for Annex 18, Dangerous Goods, are supplemented by Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air. While these detailed instructions do not have the status of SARPs or PANS, they do have a special status by which the Contracting States are requested to achieve compliance.

Regional Supplementary Procedures (or SUPPs) have application in the respective ICAO regions. Although the material in Regional Supplementary Procedures is similar to that in the Procedures for Air Navigation Services, SUPPs do not have the worldwide applicability of PANS.

Guidance Material is produced to supplement the SARPs and PANS and to facilitate their implementation. Guidance material is issued as Attachments to Annexes or in separate documents such manuals, circulars and lists of designators/addresses. Usually it is approved at the same time as the related SARPS are adopted.

Manuals provide information to supplement and/or amplify the Standards and Recommended Practices and Procedures for Air Navigation Services. They are specifically designed to facilitate implementation and are amended periodically to ensure their contents reflect current practices and procedures.

Circulars make available specialized information of interest to Contracting States. Unlike manuals, circulars are not normally updated.



Origin of Proposals for SARPs

How are SARPs created? What makes them so effective today and how can they ensure the safe, efficient and orderly growth of international civil aviation in the years to come? The answer lies in the four "C's" of aviation: cooperation, consensus, compliance and commitment. Cooperation in the formulation of SARPs, consensus in their approval, compliance in their application, and commitment of adherence to this on-going process.

The formulation of new or revised SARPs begins with a proposal for action from ICAO itself or from its Contracting States. Proposals also may be submitted by international organizations.



Development of SARPs

For technical SARPs, proposals are analysed first by the Air Navigation Commission, or ANC. Depending on the nature of the proposal, the Commission may assign its review to a specialized working group.

Meetings are, of course, the main vehicle for progress in the air navigation field, although much of the preparatory work is accomplished by correspondence. It is through a variety of meetings that most of the work is finalized and the necessary consensus reached.

In the development, a number of consultative mechanisms are used:

Air Navigation meetings are divisional-type meetings devoted to broad issues in the air navigation fields. They can be either divisional meetings dealing with issues in one or more related fields or air navigation conferences normally having a "theme" covering issues in more than one field. All Contracting States are invited to participate in these meetings with equal voice. Interested international organizations are invited to participate as observers.

ANC panels are technical groups of qualified experts formed by the ANC to advance, within specified time frames, the solution of specialized problems which cannot be solved adequately or expeditiously by the established facilities of the ANC and the Secretariat. These experts act in their expert capacity and not as representatives of the nominators.

Air Navigation study groups are small groups of experts made available by States and international organizations to assist the ICAO Secretariat, in a consultative capacity, in advancing progress on technical tasks.

Council technical committees are established to deal with problems involving technical, economic, social and legal aspects, for the resolution or advancement of which expertise is required that is not available through the normal Council means, are also instrumental in developing ICAO SARPs.

In summary, technical issues dealing with a specific subject and requiring detailed examination are normally referred by the ANC to a panel of experts. Less complex issues may be assigned to the Secretariat for further examination, perhaps with the assistance of an air navigation study group.



Review of Draft SARPs

These various groups report back to the Air Navigation Commission in the form of a technical proposal either for revisions to SARPs or for new SARPs, for preliminary review. This review is normally limited to consideration of controversial issues which, in the opinion of the Secretariat or the Commission, require examination before the recommendations are circulated to States for comment.

The original recommendations for core SARPs along with any alternative proposals developed by the Air Navigation Commission are submitted to Contracting States and selected international organizations for comment. Detailed technical specifications for complex systems are made available to States upon request and are submitted to a validation process. States are normally given three months to comment on the proposals.

Standards developed by other recognized international organizations can also be referenced, provided they have been subject to adequate verification and validation.

The comments of States and international organizations are analysed by the Secretariat and a working paper detailing the comments and the Secretariat proposals for action is prepared.

The Commission undertakes the final review of the recommendations and establishes the final texts of the proposed amendments to SARPs, PANS and associated attachments. The amendments to Annexes recommended by the Commission are presented to the Council for adoption under cover of a "Report to Council by the President of the Air Navigation Commission".



Adoption/Publication of Annex Amendments

The Council reviews the proposals of the Air Navigation Commission and adopts the amendment to the Annex if two-thirds of the members are in favour.

Within two weeks of the adoption of an Annex amendment by the Council, an interim edition of the amendment, referred to as the "Green Edition", is dispatched to States with a covering explanatory letter. This covering letter also gives the various dates associated with the introduction of the amendment.

Policy prescribes that Contracting States be allowed three months to indicate disapproval of adopted amendments to SARPs. A further period of one month is provided for preparation and transit time, making the Effective Date approximately four months after adoption by Council. There should be a period of four months between an amendment's Effective Date and its Applicability Date. However, this can be longer or shorter as the situation requires. The Notification Date is normally one month prior to the Applicability Date.

Provided a majority of States have not registered disapproval, the amendment will become effective on the Effective Date.

On the Notification Date, which is one month prior to the Applicability Date, the States must notify the Secretariat of any differences that will exist between their national regulations and the provision of the Standard as amended. The reported differences are then published in supplements to Annexes.

Immediately after the Effective Date, a letter is sent announcing that the amendment has become effective and the Secretariat takes action to issue the "Blue Edition" which is the form of the amendment suitable for incorporation in the Annex or PANS.

On the Applicability Date, States must implement the amendments unless, of course, they have notified differences. To limit the frequency of Annex and PANS amendments, the Council has established one common applicability date for each year. This date is chosen from the schedule for the regulation of amendments to Aeronautical Information Regulation and Control (AIRAC) for the month of November.

The result of this adoption procedure is that the new or amended Standards and Recommended Practices become part of the relevant Annex.

It takes on average 2 years from the Preliminary Review by the ANC to the applicability date. Although this process may seem lengthy at first glance, it provides for repeated consultation and extensive participation of States and international organizations in producing a consensus based on logic and experience.

Cooperation and consensus have thus provided international aviation with the vital infrastructure for safe and efficient air transport. The third "C", compliance, brings this comprehensive regulatory system to life.



Approval/Publication of other Annex Material and Procedures

Attachments to Annexes, although they are developed in the same manner as Standards and Recommended Practices, are approved by Council rather than adopted.

Regional Supplementary Procedures, because of their regional application, do not have the same line of development as the previously mentioned amendments; they also must be approved by Council.

The proposed amendments to PANS are approved by the Air Navigation Commission, under power delegated to it by the Council, subject to the approval by the President of the Council after their circulation to the Representatives of the Council for comment.

Manuals and circulars are published under authority of the Secretary General in accordance with principles and policies approved by Council.



Implementation of SARPs/Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme

Under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the implementation of SARPs lies with Contracting States. To help them in the area of safety, ICAO established in 1999 a Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme. The Programme consists of regular, mandatory, systematic and harmonized safety audits carried out by ICAO in all Contracting States.

The objective is to promote global aviation safety by determining the status of implementation of relevant ICAO SARPs, associated procedures and safety-related practices. The audits are conducted within the context of critical elements of a State's safety oversight system. These include the appropriate legislative and regulatory framework; a sound organizational structure; technical guidance; qualified personnel; licensing and certification procedures; continued surveillance and the resolution of identified safety concerns.

Since its inception, the Programme has proved effective in identifying safety concerns in the safety-related fields under its scope, while providing recommendations for their resolution. The Programme is being gradually expanded to include aerodromes, air traffic services, aircraft accident and incident investigation and other safety-related fields.

While providing additional assistance in the form of regional safety oversight seminars and workshops, the programme also provides ICAO with valuable feedback to improve existing SARPs and create new ones.

The experience gained with the safety oversight programme was successfully adapted to aviation security. In 2002, the Universal Security Audit Programme was launched to similarly help States identify deficiencies in the implementation of security-related SARPs. The format may in the future be applied to other areas of civil aviation.

Yes, cooperation, consensus, compliance and an unfailing commitment to the on-going implementation of SARPs have made it possible to create a global aviation system that has evolved into the safest mode of mass transportation ever conceived. The flight crew of today's commercial aircraft, as their predecessors and those that will follow, can count on a standardized aviation infrastructure wherever they fly in the world.

ICAO is proud of this unique achievement, based on the singled-minded pursuit of working with its Contracting States and all other partners of the international civil aviation community in providing the citizens of the world with an aviation system that is safe and reliable, now and for years to come.




◊ Overview of the Phases
◊ Origin of Proposals for SARPs
◊ Development of SARPs
◊ Review of Draft SARPs
◊ Adoption/Publication of Annex Amendments
◊ Approval/Publication of other Annex Material and Procedures
◊ Timeline

◊  PowerPoint Presentation on "Making an ICAO Standard"

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