Aviation Safety: How Do the Regulators Make the Rules?

Dec 22, 2017

There are certain rules in aviation that we can confidently characterise as commonsense — but what about the less obvious rules? The ones that are federal- and regional-specific, for example? In this post, we’ll talk about how regulators actually regulate: what happens to cause rule changes, if and when operators get a say, and how to stay informed and up-to-date on any changes in regulation.

Where do the rules come from?

In general, international aviation standards and recommended practices (SARPs) are set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). (We’ve covered ICAO extensively in our Safety Management Systems 101 ebook, which you can download for free here.)


ICAO’s 192 member states broadly adhere to these SARPs by implementing them through their own national and regional regulatory bodies. So for example: ICAO has put in place a measure titled Annex 19, which requires service providers to develop their own SMS by November 2019. This is being facilitated by the member states, who are required to establish their own State Safety Programs (SSP) that actually mandate these SMS. (To learn more about Annex 19 and how it may affect you, check out our piece on it here.)


So there’s the biggest thing that influences and changes rules: ICAO.

What else can cause changes in rules and regulations?

In addition to ICAO and any shifts in international aviation requirements, developments in technology and the wide adoption of these advancements can have significant impacts on aviation rules.


Take for example, the swift advent of drones. This new technology rose to the fore so quickly that regulators couldn’t fit them into any existing rule category — so they’ve had to create entirely new frameworks to ensure planes and drones can operate safely alongside each other.


Unexpected or unforeseen complications and issues arising from existing rules can also cause changes or updates.

What’s the process for rules actually getting made?

To outline the rule-making process, we’ll use New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority as an example. The organisation’s system provides a framework that’s broadly applicable across the globe.


The CAA develops Kiwi aviation rules according to a four-phase schematic.


The first phase, assessment, involves pinpointing any existing problems or safety concerns, recommending solutions, putting those solutions through a review, and beginning the process of implementing the actions decided upon in that review. Anyone can submit an issue for assessment — including operators.


The second phase is investigation, which includes diving deeper into a given issue and essentially conducting an impact study to assess the potential consequences (safety, economic, environmental, etc.) of rectifying said issue. Depending on the findings, solutions can consist of actual regulatory change or things like educational campaigns or working directly with the entity or entities causing the issue.


If the impact study finds that the appropriate course of action is to implement a new rule or regulation, the third phase begins. This phase, called rule development, involves drafting the specifics of the proposed rule change and asking for input from the public and from experts.


Once the rule is ready to be implemented, the fourth phase (finalisation) puts it into law and establishes an applicability date.

How can you stay up-to-date on changes?

By far the best way to stay informed of any and all changes in rules and regulations is to contact your relevant regulatory body to learn how they update operators in your area.


The CAA, for example, offers an email notification service that automatically sends alerts whenever rules change.


Don’t forget to download our free ebook, Safety Management Systems 101, to learn more about ICAO and SMS.

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