ICAO is funded and directed by 193 national governments to support their diplomacy and cooperation in air transport as signatory states to the Chicago Convention (1944).
Its core function is to maintain an administrative and expert bureaucracy (the ICAO Secretariat) supporting these diplomatic interactions, and to research new air transport policy and standardization innovations as directed and endorsed by governments through the ICAO Assembly, or by the ICAO Council which the assembly elects.
Industry and civil society groups, and other concerned regional and international organizations, also participate in the exploration and development of new standards at ICAO in their capacity as ‘Invited Organizations’.
As new priorities are identified by these stakeholders, the ICAO secretariat convenes panels, task forces, conferences and seminars to explore their technical, political, socio-economic and other aspects. It then provides governments with the best results and advice possible as they collectively and diplomatically establish new international standards and recommended practices for civil aviation internationally.
Once governments achieve diplomatic consensus around a new standard’s scope and details, it is then adopted by those same 193 countries in order to bring worldwide alignment to their national regulations, helping to realize safe, secure and sustainable air operations on a truly global basis.
In addition to these core diplomatic and research capabilities, ICAO also serves as a critical coordination platform in civil aviation through its seven Regional Offices.
It also conducts educational outreach, develops coalitions, and conducts auditing, training, and capacity building activities worldwide per the needs and priorities governments identify and formalize.
Not a global regulator
The stipulations ICAO standards contain never supersede the primacy of national regulatory requirements. It is always the local, national regulations which are enforced in, and by, sovereign states, and which must be legally adhered to by air operators making use of applicable airspace and airports.
Contrary to many dramatic and media portrayals of UN agencies, they do not have any authority over national governments in the areas of international priority they are established for. Critiques of the UN are often rooted in allegations founded on fantastical capabilities and authorities which sovereign states would never assign to a multilateral organization.
ICAO is therefore not an international aviation regulator, just as INTERPOL is not an international police force. We cannot arbitrarily close or restrict a country’s airspace, shut down routes, or condemn airports or airlines for poor safety performance or customer service.
Should a country transgress a given international standard adopted through our organization, ICAO’s function in such circumstances, consistent with our core diplomatic capabilities and role, is to help countries conduct any discussions, condemnations, sanctions, etc., they may wish to pursue, consistent with the Chicago Convention and the Articles and Annexes it contains under international law.