The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) defines Safety Oversight as a "function performed by a State to ensure that individuals and organizations performing an aviation activity comply with safety-related national laws and regulations."
Safety Oversight forms the part of the safety regulatory process dedicated to ensuring that applicable safety regulatory requirements are met, and to the monitoring of the safe provision of services. Unless prescribed otherwise by international legislation, safety oversight in aviation is a national responsibility. Many States and safety experts advocate moving to a form of Safety Oversight referred to as Risk-based Oversight.
The Safety Regulatory Process
States bear a responsibility for the regulation of the safety of their national aviation systems and services. The overall process through which this responsibility is discharged contains four main elements:
- Rule Preparation - the drafting of national rules, including appropriate consultation;
- Rule Enactment - the passing of laws or other appropriate orders to give legal effect to the rules;
- Safety Oversight - the monitoring of safe service-provision including verifying compliance with the rules;
- Enforcement - taking appropriate action to deal with cases of non-compliance.
At the national level, these four functions may be exercised by one body, empowered by the national government. Alternatively, the separate functions may be distributed, or may not exist. For example, and depending on the severity of the case, responsibility for enforcement action (following non-compliance) can be passed to a legal body such as the national department of justice (or similar).
Increasingly in European civil aviation, rule preparation and enactment has been passed to European-level bodies such as the European Commission or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This has, in turn, led to the identification of national bodies for safety oversight.
The Scope of Safety Oversight
Given the main objectives of the safety oversight function, the generic components of a national safety oversight system may be summarised as:
- Monitoring of safety performance;
- Verifying compliance with applicable safety regulatory requirements;
- Safety regulatory auditing;
- Oversight of new or changed systems, operations, products or procedures;
- Publication of regulatory instructions or advisory material based on findings of oversight activities;
- Generation and maintenance of safety oversight records.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recognises national safety oversight responsibilities within States’ obligations under the Chicago Convention. ICAO has responded to the need to formalise arrangements for the establishment of national safety oversight systems, and to supplement these with regional arrangements to derive maximum safety benefit from collective action. Accordingly, to support these twin initiatives, ICAO has published:
- ICAO Doc 9734 Part A - The Establishment and Management of a State’s Safety Oversight System, and
- ICAO Doc 9734 Part B - The Establishment and Management of a Regional Safety Oversight System.
Both give comprehensive guidance information to support the development of safety oversight.
In addition, ICAO has established its Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme, with the aim of verifying, through formal audits, States’ safety oversight arrangements and capabilities. Audits cover all applicable regulations related to safety oversight by a State, as well as the procedures, the resourcing of functions and other implementing arrangements needed to implement the eight Critical Elements (CE’s) of a State’s Safety Oversight System as defined in ICAO Document 9734-A. These elements may be summarised as:
- CE 1 - Primary Aviation Legislation
- CE 2 - Specific Operating Regulations
- CE3 - State Aviation System and Safety Oversight Functions
- CE4 - Qualified Technical Personnel and Training
- CE5 - Technical Guidance, Tools and Provision of Safety Critical Information
- CE6 - Licensing, Certification, Authorisation and Approval Obligations
- CE7 - Surveillance Obligations
- CE8 - Resolution of Safety Concerns
The ICAO Global Aviation Safety Plan (GASP): 2014-2016 called for all States to have implemented effective safety oversight capabilities by the year 2017. The ICAO Global Aviation Safety Plan: 2017 - 2019 set as an objective that all States have least 60% implementation of the eight CEs of a state oversight system by 2017 and that States with greater than 60% implementation should implement a State Safety Programme (SSP) (SSP). The 2017-2019n GASP set as a mid-term objective that all States implement SSPs by 2022.
This requires all Member States to have the resources as well as the legal, regulatory and organizational structures necessary to fulfill their fundamental safety oversight obligations. These are required to ensure the issuance and oversight of approvals, authorizations and certification of aviation service providers, as well as personnel licensing, in accordance with relevant ICAO SARPs.
Safety Oversight in ATM
In Air Traffic Management (ATM), specific legal provision have been made at European level for the establishment of national safety oversight functions.
Regulation 1034/2011 - Safety Oversight in ATM and Air Navigation Services of 17 October 2011 on safety oversight function by competent authorities concerning air navigation services (ANS), air traffic flow management (ATFM), airspace management (ASM) for general air traffic and other network functions. The Regulation does not cover military operations and training.
This Regulation applies to the activities of competent authorities and qualified entities acting on their behalf regarding the safety oversight of ANS, ATFM, ASM and other network functions.
Regulation 1034/2011 was repealed by Regulation 2017/373 which essentially applies (inter alia) to the same activities.