An Insider's Look At ICAO, Canadian General Aviation

Adam Hunt


For the January COPA Flight 8 meeting, Flight Captain Mike Shaw invited Frank Hofmann to address the group. The timing was good, as Hofmann pointed out that the last time he had spoken to Flight 8 was in 2004, so it was past due time for an update.

For a retired teacher and AME Frank Hofmann wears a lot of hats in the aviation world, even when he isn’t out flying his homebuilt Bushby Mustang II. He is a member of the COPA Board of Directors for Quebec and is also COPA’s Eastern Vice-Chair. Most week days in his home town of Montreal, Hofmann volunteers in one of the most critical jobs in global general aviation, as he is the IAOPA representative to ICAO.

ICAO is the International Civil Aviation Organization, a body of the United Nations, with 192 members states, headquartered in Montreal. ICAO largely determines the rules for civil aviation worldwide.

IAOPA is the International Council of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associations, a collective association for the 69 AOPAs around the world, with 470,000 members, including all the members of COPA. By joining COPA you automatically become a member of IAOPA and have representation at ICAO.

IAOPA was formed in 1962 and became an official ICAO observer in 1964. Based at AOPA HQ in Frederick, Maryland, IAOPA has just three staff, including Secretary General John J. Sheehan, administrator Ruth Moser and Hofmann in Montreal.

The President of IAOPA is AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller and the IAOPA Vice-President for North America is COPA President and CEO Kevin Psutka. As the IAOPA representative to ICAO Hofmann describes his behind- the-scenes work as mainly “preparing people for future ideas”.

The biggest challenge, as Hofmann explains, is that fundamentally ICAO doesn’t care about general aviation. The vast majority of ICAO’s member states have no general aviation in their countries and as an observer, IAOPA has no vote on ICAO decisions.

The achievements in influencing ICAO policy that IAOPA has accomplished are strictly the result of personal contacts and the patient building of relationships.

IAOPA’s goals are to facilitate the movement of international general aviation and aerial work (GA/AW), act as the representative of GA/AW at all international forums, develop common policies and to publicize GA/AW.

That last role is really the initial priority, as most countries’ representatives have had little exposure to aviation outside the airlines and military.

Amongst IAOPA’s objectives are eliminating barriers and restrictions to GA/AW, publicizing the good news stories about GA/AW and educating international bodies about the important roles that small aircraft fulfil.

Of course to understand the work IAOPA does require understanding what ICAO is all about. Not only does the UN body have 192 member states, but it officially operates in six languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic. This means that, even with its substantial budget, it still spends 40% on translation costs.

ICAO’s purpose is to achieve safe, secure and sustainable development of civil aviation amongst its member states. It does this though enhancing safety and security, and working on environmental protection, minimizing the adverse effects of global civil aviation on the environment. It also seeks to ensure that flying operations continue, despite global threats ranging from terrorists to volcanic ash clouds and also works to strengthen the rule of law and the laws governing civil aviation.

The environmental protection aim is relatively new to ICAO and at first look seems at odds with the other goals, but is one the organization takes seriously, as the Kyoto Protocol does not regulate international flight emissions but asks ICAO to address that issue.

ICAO’s highest body is the Assembly, which consists of all member states and meets every three years. At that meeting the Assembly ratifies all the decisions of the previous three years since the last meeting.

The Assembly also elects the Council, which is the governing body of the organization. The Council comprises of representatives from 36 states which are elected for the three years between the assemblies.

The 36 Council members are made up of three groups of states. First are the 12 that are most important in air transport and these are the permanent Council members. Next are the 12 states that are critical to air navigation, especially trans-oceanic operations, such as Ireland.

Lastly there are 12 states that are elected as regional representatives, to ensure all parts of the world are heard from.

It is the Council’s job to review and adopt Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and annexes, assisted by the Air Navigation Commission on technical matters, the Air Transport Committee on economic matters and Committee on Unlawful Interference in aviation security issues.

It is the Air Navigation Commission that assists in preparing most of the rules that work their way through ICAO and later end up in national aviation regulations, such as the Transport Canada CARs.

The Air Navigation Commission in turn is assisted by technical experts from around the world. These form the Air Navigation Bureau, which is a part of the ICAO Secretariat. The Secretariat, which is headed up by the Secretary General, has five divisions: the Air Navigation Bureau, the Air Transport Bureau, the Technical Co-operation Bureau, the Legal Bureau, and the Bureau of Administration and Services.

This large organization produces many documents. Primary are the SARPs, currently consisting of 19 Annexes, 16 of which are on aviation technical subjects. Member states are required to comply with Standards unless they formally file a difference. Member states are supposed to endeavour to comply with Recommended Practices.

PANS are Procedures for Air Navigation Services, which detail technical procedures. ICAO also produces guidance material, manuals and circulars, all designed to make it easier to comply with the SARPs.

It is pretty obvious that ICAO is a large and complex body that moves slowly and has many political influences. While fasttracked rules have been known to make it through ICAO in a year, most routine matters take about 10 years from proposal to ICAO implementation.

When you add in the typical delay in national regulatory bodies, such as Transport Canada, which can also take 10 years to move a regulation from proposal to implementation, it can be appreciated that the whole regulatory process moves at the pace of a glacier.

This can be a good thing as in the regulatory world haste definitely makes waste, but it also means that by the time a SARP proposal becomes a national regulation the people who worked on the initial proposal may be long retired or even dead.

In this large and slow-moving organization Hofmann’s volunteer job is to be the “face of general aviation.” He notes that even though there are many pilots working at ICAO, from military and airline backgrounds, he is probably the only person there who owns his own airplane.

Of course to many representatives this means he must be quite wealthy, so Hofmann has taken quite a number flying in his little homebuilt two-seater, explaining that it costs about the same to own and run as a typical car.

He has given a number of ICAO personnel their first flight into an uncontrolled aerodrome, something not found in many countries in the world. Aside from the odd chance to fly, Hofmann spends a lot of his time at ICAO informally discussing issues from the GA/AW perspective, making sure people remember that small aircraft exist.

IAOPA does get a chance for formal input to ICAO, participating in working groups, study groups and presenting papers when the opportunity arises. IAOPA also has the chance to reward people who help out on GA/AW issues with luncheons and dinners, presentation aircraft models and attendance at functions and similar activities, all part of the slow process of gaining understanding of GA/AW issues.

In his role as IAOPA representative to ICAO Hofmann reports regularly to the IAOPA Secretary General on developments in Montreal. He meets regularly with the Canadian government delegation to ICAO and also provides reports and feedback to the AOPAs around the world, including, of course, COPA.

Flight 8 would like to thank Frank Hofmann for explaining ICAO and IAOPA to us. The rarefied atmosphere at ICAO may seem a long way from the local airport flight line, but pilots appreciate that it was at ICAO that the rules requiring 406 Mhz ELTs were conceived almost a generation ago and have finally wound their way into the CARs to become an issue for aircraft owners today.