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From a U.S. foreign perspective, the impact of the FAA-IASA versus ICAO-USOAP

Aviation lovers and followers have approached us to explain the differences in role, benefits, and focus of the Federal Aviation Authority - International Aviation Safety Assessment program (FAA-IASA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization - Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program (ICAO-USOAP).

Different descriptions have been used with one specific meaning and focus, as opposed to explaining efforts to comply with international civil aviation standards. This creates confusion, especially among the public without professional or specialist knowledge in civil aviation, but who are concerned about recent developments.

With this article, PMC Global Aviation wants to provide insight into important differences, facts and effects of the audit programs of the influencing civil aviation organizations.


“The core activity of any Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is to guarantee a safe, efficient, secure, and environmentally friendly air transport system”

They are responsible to advice their respective governments on policy issues related to civil aviation in general and on matters related to international conventions related to civil aviation and the adoption of measures necessary to implement the standards and recommended practices of the international air transport system.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that coordinates the principles and techniques of international aviation by promoting the planning and development of international air transport to ensure the safe and orderly growth of the global civil aviation system.

ICAO supports member states, and governments of the 193 ICAO Signatory States, through their respective civil aviation authorities, to realize a national, regional, and global safe, efficient, secure, and environmentally friendly air transport system.

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the United States Civil Aviation Authority supporting the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), is responsible to guarantee the world's safest and most efficient space system “The United States National Aviation System “.


The ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program (USOAP) is the tool used to ensure that a signatory state complies with the provisions of the Convention or national regulations and the implementation of ICAO standards and recommended practices in all functional categories.

Note: This video provides a more technical explanation of the ICAO-USOAP

The FAA International Aviation Safety Assessment Program (IASA) is the tool used to ensure that an U.S. foreign civil aviation oversight authority meets expectations of overseeing their national airlines flying or planning to fly to the U.S., or code-share with a U.S. airline. By complying with specific ICAO standards and recommended practices in functional category 1.

Note: This video provides a more technical explanation of the FAA-IASA


The overall goal of these international audit programs is to assess the effective implementation of the critical elements of a state's safety oversight system, by conducting a systematic and objective assessment of a state's safety oversight capability.

This is in accordance with the provisions of the Convention or national regulations and the implementation of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), procedures and best practices in aviation safety.


The standard functional categories and related audit areas related to audit programs are as follows:

  1. OPERATIONS: The first functional category group is related to personnel licensing and training (PEL), aircraft operations (OPS) and airworthiness of aircraft (AIR).

  2. AIR NAVIGATION: The second functional category is related to aerodromes and ground aids (AGA) and air navigation services (ANS).

  3. SUPPORT SERVICES: The third functional category is related to primary aviation legislation and civil aviation regulations (LEG), civil aviation organization (ORG) and aircraft accident and incident investigation (AIG).


The ICAO-USOAP is based on a comprehensive systems approach ("all functional categories") to ensure:

  • Inclusion of all core elements of the safety provisions,

  • Availability of all aspects related to the audit process are visible to Contracting States,

  • Availability of final safety oversight audit reports to all Contracting States,

  • Guaranteed access to all relevant information derived from the audit findings and discrepancies available to all Contracting States through a secure ICAO website.

In contrast, the FAA-IASA program focuses only on the capability of a foreign state safety surveillance system in the first functional category, OPERATIONS, targeting airlines operating or planning to operate in the U.S., or code-share with an American airline.


For ICAO, the identification of significant safety issues does not necessarily indicate a particular safety deficiency but indicates insufficient state oversight to ensure the effective implementation of all applicable ICAO standards.

It is important to emphasize that ICAO does not directly control the aviation industry or aviation service providers. ICAO audits focus on the safety oversight of the designated government agency responsible for civil aviation.

When it is determined by the ICAO-USOAP that a particular supervisory authority of a particular state does not comply with the standards, the ICAO will initiate the process of determining whether the state needs assistance from ICAO and other entities to improve its safety oversight system, in addition, the state should increase its compliance efforts and ask for help where necessary.

FAA also focuses on regulatory compliance, but only on functional "category 1", OPERATIONS. And when non-compliance is found, the FAA downgrades the foreign supervisory authority's safety oversight system to "category 2" for safety reasons, meaning the state is unable to meet those safety oversight standards specifically targeting their national airlines that fly to and from the U.S.


  • The air carriers from the assessed state cannot initiate new service and restricted to current levels of any existing service to the United States while corrective actions are underway.

  • The FAA does not support reciprocal code-share arrangements between air carriers of the assessed state and U.S. carriers.

  • During this time, the foreign air carrier serving the United States is subject to additional inspections at U.S. airports.

This downgrading affects both the way foreign airlines can serve the United States and the way American partners of these national airlines can jointly market, as well as business and leisure traveling public from the U.S. and foreign country.

This safety-related concern raises questions about what "category 2" really means. Unlike ICAO's approach, which is a resolution approach, the FAA approach creates risks but also opportunities for U.S. airlines. While the foreign national carriers are now unable to add or expand services to the U.S., next to the inability of country downgraded to impose such limits on U.S. carriers.

This is a complex set of issues, as fares for the traveling community can be kept higher as the national carriers cannot compete, limiting their growth in the U.S. market, and furthermore, the foreign states and their national carriers are restricted during this designation.


Every State under the Chicago Convention has the responsibility to enhance global civil aviation safety by focusing primarily on the State's regulatory oversight capabilities, and to foster the development of a sound and economically viable civil aviation system and minimize the adverse environmental effects of civil aviation activities.

This is possible if each State establishes and implements an effective safety oversight system that addresses all areas of aviation activities, by effectively implementing all critical elements in all audit areas. Thus, in all functional categories.

It is important to establish a cooperative and holistic resolution approach to aviation safety, where each state contributes to its local, national, regional, and consequently a global economic non-restrictive, safe, and efficient aviation system.

PMC Global Aviation
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