The Chicago Convention of 1944 was called because the aeronautical leaders of that time saw that this then nascent industry to span the globe. These Flying Founding Fathers also foresaw the negative potential for disparate national standards by the Civil Aviation Authorities to be established. The immediate result of this meeting in the Windy City was the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN organization located now in Montreal Canada.
ICAO is a fine institution, but under UN rules, its decisions ultimately reflect the fact that many of its nation members have neither resources nor the expertise to meet the most exacting standards. ICAO devotes a lot of resources to bringing some of the lesser performing CAAs up to standards.
The European Union and the US FAA have both initiated programs designed to inform their citizens about the countries which may not have the most exacting standards. These assessments are of the CAA’s and the FAA’s judgments and do not extend to the level of the carriers which fly that country’s flag. Thus, the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment program is at best a surrogate for the safety standards of the airlines.
The FAA’s evaluation criteria involve considerations that are not directly safety related. They have found fault with institutional “problems,” that is, the parliament of a particular country may exercise undue influence over the safety agency or the CAA budget may be inadequate in the FAA’s audit team’s judgment. While these are criticisms that may sound like the complaints of a US party not in the White House, neither such assessment necessarily means that the oversight function is not being vigorously pursued.
Even when an IASA report gives the CAA a clean bill of health, which is a snapshot in time, the process is not likely to be repeated for a number of years. In the interim, the CAA leadership may have changed, the national and airline finances may have taken a substantial negative turn or any of a variety of changes, which significantly impact the operational integrity, may have occurred. All of which suggest that even a thorough analysis in year one may not be valid at year five.
The FAA’s, EU’s and ICAO’s labeling of CAAs are not, and can never be, a precise examination of an airline’s safety. Governments are not well suited for such work.
A better guide in selecting an airline for your international itinerary is to see whether the carrier which you are considering is a member of one of the major airline alliances– Star Alliance, Oneworld or Sky Team. Those commercial relationships extend the reach of the familiar US carriers on a global basis. The network is more than commercial and usually involves cooperation on safety, operational and maintenance matters.
While it is not a perfect, real time safety assessment and the inclusion of a foreign carrier in one of these alliances may be a better measure of their competence and of its safety commitment than any of the governmental grades.Share this article: