Safety Regulation

Safety Regulation


In order to meet the requirements for safe air transport services, a number of organisations and institutions have been set up at global, regional and local level to develop common rules, regulations, standards and procedures on safety and oversee their implementation across all aviation sectors.

The regulatory framework and safety requirements have been built up over decades and are continually being amended and enhanced to achieve an ever increasing safety performance and to meet future challenges posed by the implementation of new air navigation concepts and the need to ensure sustainable development of civil aviation.

Three basic layers of safety regulation can be distinguished, namely:

  • Regional regulatory arrangements and requirements. In Europe, and also in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), there is an additional and intermediate regulatory layer based upon some ceding of national regulatory functions to supra-national agencies. The objective of creating such bodies is to ensure a high and uniform level of safety in civil aviation, by the adoption of common safety rules and measures in line with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS).
  • National regulatory arrangements and requirements, promulgated in national legislation and other normative acts by the designated State authorities. National safety regulator requirements should comply with those established at global and regional level.

International Regulatory Arrangements

The principle international organisation is ICAO, an agency of the United Nations that was established in 1944 through the Convention on International Civil Aviation, known as the Chicago Convention. ICAO is funded and directed by its 193 Member States.

Through the participation of contracting states, ICAO develops SARPS that cover all aspects of aviation, including safety. SARPs provide the foundation of all safety regulatory regimes at a global scale. By signing the Chicago Convention, a state agrees that adopted standards will be implemented in its own territories, or any difference will be notified to ICAO. In recent years the ICAO requirements have been extended to require implementation of a formal safety management system (SMS) by aviation service provider organisations and aircraft operators.

ICAO oversees the development of safety regulatory frameworks by Member States through the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) which was established in 1999 to ensure the uniform application of ICAO standards.

ICAO is not a global aviation regulator. According to the ICAO website, "The stipulations ICAO standards contain never supersede the primacy of national regulatory requirements."  

European Regulatory Arrangements

In spite of the harmonisation work led by the national administrations through the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), considerable differences continued to exist between national practices and it was not unusual for a manufacturer to have to produce different versions of the same type of aircraft or of its equipment according to the country where it was to be used. Furthermore, the requirements imposed on operators varied from one country to another and sometimes created disparities between airlines that are in competition with one another in the same markets. To overcome these problems, the European Union put in place a mechanism permitting the introduction into Community Law of standards drawn up by the JAA or other European bodies, making such standards part of the Community legal order, and therefore mandatory. Regulations of the European Council and of the European Commission are the most common legal instruments used for enhancing aviation safety in Europe.

To help achieve the harmonisation goal and promote the highest common standards of safety and environmental protection in civil aviation the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was set up in 2003 as an agency of the European Union. Currently EASA competence covers the following civil aviation domains:

  • Aerodromes,
  • Air Operations,
  • Aircrew and Medical,
  • Aircraft and Products, including Unmanned Aircraft (Drones),
  • Air Traffic Management / Air Navigation Services;
  • General Aviation,
  • Environment;
  • Cybersecurity,

The functions and responsibilities of EASA are defined in Regulation 2018/1139.

At the European Union Member State level, national supervisory authorities (NSAs) (referred to as "competent authorities" in EU legislation) are established. They perform various tasks, including certification, oversight and enforcement. While these bodies have existed for decades, some of their functions are now performed by EASA in the interests of standardisation at EU level.

At the European level there are also numerous organisations which help develop and implement civil aviation safety standards and requirements, e.g. the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE).

National Regulatory Arrangements -- EASA

A national safety regulatory function is established in each EU Member State. There is a considerable variation in the implementation of the international safety regulations and arrangements at the national level. This variation allows for regional flexibility but also leads to some inconsistency. Many safety regulatory requirements are proving difficult to implement, both in EU states with limited pre-existing safety regulation and those with well established regulatory regimes. Aligning all the national regulatory frameworks proves to be more difficult than anticipated.

European ATM Safety Regulation

The European ATM safety regulation aims to harmonize the arrangements across Europe. It was initially developed by means of EUROCONTROL Safety Regulatory Requirements (ESARRs), which laid down a framework for ATM safety. They were subsequently replaced by adoption of the EU Single European Sky (SES) legislation. It comprises regulations that are binding legislative acts and are mandatory for all EU member states. Thus, a high level of uniformity is achieved. The requirements for ATM/ANS providers are defined in Regulation 2017/373.

The European ATM safety regulatory arrangements are continuously evolving with new legislation being drafted by EASA and new institutional arrangements being implemented.

Safety Regulation Approaches -- EU Member States

EU Member States use a range of different approaches to safety regulation. In general, technical systems and their interactions (e.g. data link) are addressed by prescriptive, detailed safety requirements. In other areas the requirements are rather objective based (e.g., ICAO and EASA requirements on safety management). The advantage of prescriptive regulation is that it specifies what needs to be done, but this approach also makes the implementation of innovative solutions difficult. In addition, the traceability between the prescriptive regulation and the contextual factors may be lost with time, which may lead to misleading compliance demonstration. Objective based regulation has the advantage that it allows for flexible solutions. However, it can sometimes be difficult to determine how to meet an objective requirement and overcome inconsistency in implementation.

National Regulatory Arrangements -- United States

At the highest level of the federal government, the U.S. Congress enacts aviation law, which is written to be comprehensive, effective and consistent with the size and complexity of the civil aviation activity in the United States. This law also reflects the safety-oversight standards of ICAO. Aviation law sets the foundation that enables the nation to regulate civil aviation and to enforce regulations through primary federal authorities such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or federal agencies established for a related purpose, such as the independent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Congress also is responsible for funding sufficient and qualified personnel not only at the FAA and NTSB, but at other relevant federal aviation authorities or agencies.

The United States' primary aviation legislation is in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 14, Aeronautics and Space, Chapter 1: Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation. Its subchapters and parts essentially cover definitions and general requirements; safety management systems (SMS); procedural rules; aircraft; airmen; airspace; air traffic and general operating rules; air carriers and operators for hire — certification and operations; schools and other certificated agencies; airports; navigational facilities; and administrative regulations. The Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) are in CFR Title 14, Chapter I, Subchapter F, Air Traffic and General Operating Rules, Part 91, General Operating and Flight Rules.

This CFR is consistent with the eight critical elements of ICAO’s USOAP CMA, described above under “International Regulatory Arrangements.” As an example, the common thread for one critical element is that FAA personnel performing safety-oversight functions possess legal authority to gain access to the aircraft, operations, facilities, personnel and associated records, as applicable, of aviation service providers.

The FAA establishes and enforces operating regulations to address, at a minimum, requirements of the aviation law for standard operating procedures, products, services, equipment and infrastructures. The FAA also provides technical guidance to the aviation industry on how to successfully implement FARs by following FAA Advisory Circulars (ACs) and consulting FAA. The FAA publicly reports how its safety functions and objectives fulfill its safety management responsibilities. Its method for determining staffing requirements according to the size and complexity of aviation activity also is disclosed publicly.

Among FAA's roles are the following:

  • Qualified technical personnel -- The FAA defines minimum qualification levels and requirements for technical personnel performing aviation safety oversight functions. The overall objective includes initial and recurrent training to maintain their competence. The FAA maintains training records of these technical personnel with interactive networks of databases and policies that meet ICAO standards.
  • Safety-critical information — The FAA provides technical guidance, tools and safety-critical information to their technical personnel. Other resources provided include appropriate facilities, comprehensive and up-to-date technical guidance material and procedures, safety-critical information, tools and equipment, and transportation means, as applicable, for their technical personnel. FAA also enables technical personnel to perform their safety oversight functions effectively, per written procedures and in a standardised manner.
  • Licence, certificate, authorisation or approval — The FAA fulfills its national civil aviation licensing, certification, authorisation and/or approval obligations. Specifically, its documented processes and procedures help ensure that personnel and organisations that perform an aviation activity comply with FAA requirements. FAA processes and procedures deny an unqualified or noncompliant person’s or organisation’s ability to exercise privileges of a licence, certificate, authorisation and/or approval to engage in their intended aviation activities.
  • Surveillance by civil aviation authority — The FAA takes responsibility for deploying surveillance processes in support of safety-oversight functions. These include: defining and planning inspections, audits, and monitoring activities on a continuous basis; and, proactively assuring that the aviation licence, certificate, authorisation and/or approval holders continue to follow ICAO SARPs. The FAA also conducts surveillance of the quality of work by designees who perform safety-oversight functions on its behalf.
  • Timely action to resolve safety issues — To resolve newly identified aviation safety issues, the FAA applies internal processes and corrective actions — up to and including regulatory-enforcement measures, as noted. The agency’s response includes prioritization to ensure that issue resolution is timely. The FAA’s system also monitors and records progress toward resolution — including the actions taken by the aviation service providers involved.

Safety Regulation Approaches -- United States

The United States State Safety Program (SSP) 2021 (Revision 1) report explains the entire current context of safety regulation in the U.S. The following excerpts are a few examples:

  • “A national aviation safety legislative framework and specific regulations define how the USA conducts its oversight and management of aviation safety. … Legislation and regulations are safety risk controls periodically reviewed to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate. … The USA has established mechanisms for effective monitoring of these critical elements.”
  • FAA Order 2150.3C, FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program, describes how the FAA expects regulated entities to identify and correct underlying issues, including issues that may present safety risk. The obligation of the aviation and aerospace communities to comply with statutory and regulatory requirements includes a duty to develop and use processes and procedures that will prevent deviation from such requirements.”
  • The FAA’s Compliance and Enforcement Program exerts jurisdiction over all activities regulated or enforced by the agency. Enforcement options comprise: compliance action, which may include on-the-spot corrective action or counseling; educational and remedial training efforts; administrative action in the form of either a warning notice or letter of correction; certificate suspensions for a fixed period of time; civil penalties; indefinite certificate suspensions pending compliance or demonstration of qualifications; certificate revocations; injunctions; and referrals for criminal prosecution.

Further Reading

Refer to the appropriate website (see below) or those of national regulatory authorities:


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