Role of ICAO explained

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In the MH17 final report and debate after the publication many times ICAO is mentioned. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations.

So what is the role of ICAO exactly?

The ICAO Council adopts standards and recommended practices concerning air navigation, its infrastructure, flight inspection, prevention of unlawful interference, and facilitation of border-crossing procedures for international civil aviation. ICAO defines the protocols for air accident investigation followed by transport safety authorities in countries signatory to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).

ICAO does not provide ‘hard law’. ICAO cannot for example give penalties for states which do not comply to ICAO provided guidelines. ICAO provides standards, protocols, guidelines, best practises and encourage member states to comply to these. ICAO is more or less a global, multi-state non-profit consultancy firm on aviation, not a police officer.

ICAO’s role as a UN multilateral agency is to encourage cooperation between states and operators. Convention’s such as the one which established ICAO provide the framework for this cooperation, but they do not bestow upon agencies such as ICAO some form of supranational authority to penalize the sovereign states which sign on to it.

Any sort of ‘reprimand’ or penalty for not abiding by a multilateral Convention’s articles would normally be organized in the form of international sanctions which one or more States would agree to apply against another State or States, depending on many factors and circumstances of course.

ICAO’s 12,000+ standards and recommended practices (SARPs), contained in the 19 Annexes to the Chicago Convention, are agreed normally via consensus and their main role is to provide a common baseline from which states can develop or amend their local civil aviation laws and regulations. It is these latter and local, national laws, harmonized globally using ICAO SARPs, which ultimately provide the enforceable legal responsibilities which airline and airport and other operators in ICAO’s network must adhere to.

The intention of the Convention, therefore, is not to penalize states but to assist them in meeting common global standards which ultimately enable and benefit the worldwide network ICAO manages. It’s introductory statement clearly sets out that its goal is to foster peace and prosperity by forming new bridges between the peoples and cultures of the world – not to serve as an instrument to police and penalize.

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