A better approach to aiding our Caribbean neighbors’ aviation system?

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IASI calls out Organization of Eastern Caribbean States as deficient

Restoring status from Category 2 back to Category 1 is difficult

Perhaps an SMS non-judgmental, cooperative and collaborative approach is best

The FAA has determined that a coalition of nine island nations does not meet the ICAO standards. That failing grade will impact aviation to/from and primarily within the islands. The determination is part of a Congressionally sanctioned international assessment designed to protect US travelers and to assure global safety standards are met.

Might there be a better approach to dealing with deficiencies that handing out a failing report card?

Now, more than ever, the FAA’s Office of International Affairs is seeking improved relations with the civil aviation authorities around the globe.  In particular, Administrator Huerta, years ago, set the Caribbean as a priority for the FAA.

The Caribbean Aviation Safety Needs The FAA’s And USTDA’s Help, Now

Caribbean air route map

EU Targets South Asia & FAA Focuses On CaribbeanCaribbean Aviation

Is FAA’s Caribbean Focus The Best Choice?

FAA global leadership initiative

The Caribbean is a critical nexus for the U.S. airspace system

More than 7 million passengers fly from the United States to the Caribbean each year, accounting for nearly 17 percent of all U.S. outbound passengers.

Millions of Americans travel to the Caribbean each year and air traffic in the Caribbean region is expected to grow rapidly by five to six percent over 
the next two decades, second only to the Middle East.

Air traffic management is complex and requires extensive coordination among air navigation partners. The region includes 10 air traffic service providers 
managed by separate sovereign nations.  Half a million aircraft cross one of the six flight regions adjacent to the U.S.

Varying tropical weather patterns and the complexity of a multitude of airports contribute to air traffic schedule uncertainty and delays within the region.

U.S. carriers have begun to operate scheduled passenger service Cuba.

OECS seals and flags

The FAA downgraded the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) rating of the  Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) through its aviation safety arm Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) from Category 1 to Category 2. Though that lowering of this safety surrogate may be justified, the result of this judgment impacts the aviation sector of these island nations and could discourage visitors to these resort destinations.

FAA Announces Safety Rating for Eastern Caribbean Aviation System

WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has been assigned a Category
2 rating because it does not comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment
(IASA) program.

A Category 2 IASA rating means that laws or regulations lack the necessary requirements to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards,
or that civil aviation authorities are deficient in one or more areas, including technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, inspection procedures or
resolution of safety concerns
. The OECS’s carriers can continue existing service to the United States. They will not be allowed to establish new service to the United States.

The Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) provides aviation safety oversight for OECS members Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis,
St. Lucia, as well as St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Under the IASA program, the FAA assesses the civil aviation authorities of all countries with air carriers that have applied to fly to the United States, currently
conduct operations to the United States, or participate in code-sharing arrangements with U.S. partner airlines, and makes that information available to the public.

The assessments determine whether foreign civil aviation authorities comply with ICAO safety standards, rather than FAA regulations. A Category 1 rating means the
country’s civil aviation authority complies with ICAO standards. A Category 1 rating allows air carriers from that country to establish service to the United States and
carry the code of U.S. carriers.

To maintain a Category 1 rating, a country must adhere to the safety standards of ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation that establishes international
standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance
. IASA information is posted on the FAA website.

Passing such judgment is not conducive to the Authority’s stature. The local public opinion will be lowered as to the ECCAA’s competence and will impact air transportation in the region.

The Press Release does not provide a list of the ECCAA’s problems; so, what exactly must be corrected has not been disclosed. The typical deficiencies range from substandard personnel to deficient legislation/regulations to ineffective regulatory surveillance to poor operational performance to inadequate maintenance. None of those problems can be cured by intuitive actions; all require extensive expertise and experience to bring the ECCAA’s issues into compliance.

As explained above IASA can be perceived as a negative experience. Leaving “To Do” lists with a DG who neither asked for it nor respected the process does not improve US relations with the CAA. Typically, the FAA’s deficiencies found require the CAA to rewrite rules, get the legislative branch to change their authority, to get money and have the expertise to hire “qualified” staff, etc.

Some examples of why the corrective actions

  • The ECCAA cannot spare staff from the daily demands of running the Authority to rewrite rules that are being enforced. So, the organization will be stretched to deal with all of the corrections
  • If, for example, their law has been found deficient, it is precarious for the ECCAA to tell their superior OECS that their “authorization” is inadequate and requires a revision.
  • If the complaint was that the staff members are not adequately qualified and the most likely answer is to increase salaries, asking for money for staff is not a popular topic with the powers to be.
  • Operating and maintaining an aviation system requires substantial expertise and technical support. Bring the people and techniques up to ICAO standards requires outside assistance. Such services are not free.
  • Most of the remediation actions require extraordinary resources unavailable to most civil aviation authorities.

A more effective approach might be to employ the less judgmental approach of Safety Management Systems SMS with the FAA and/or outside entity working with the CAA.

sms elements


The SMS model avoids finding fault AND instead looks for prioritized practical solutions. The US team should be part of the problem-solving effort—helping revise the regulations or manuals; going to the legislature to explain why the CAA statute bears revision. This is a far more effective method to improve safety and infinitely less likely to offend another sovereign.

The FAA, following the Monroe Doctrine, wants to establish positive long term relationships with countries in this hemisphere. Taking a more cooperative and collaborative approach might be far more effective relations with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.

OCES airports


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2 Comments on "A better approach to aiding our Caribbean neighbors’ aviation system?"

  1. Nancy M Hackett | May 13, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Reply

    “Perhaps an SMS non-judgmental, cooperative and collaborative approach is best?” Of course and always! I lived in the Virgin Islands for several years and learned to fly there. It is quite different in the islands and a heavy-handed approach will not go over well…

  2. So what happened to the US funded technical assistance? Doesn’t seem to produce desired results to me.
    Perhaps another technical assistance approach is needed?

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