Since planes traverse the Earth, and a country may deem another country's airline unsafe, yet that unsafe airline is deemed safe in its country, what is the hierarchy of the aviation regulatory bodies from the highest global level down to a state or even a town.

One example of how it moves top-down would be great.

  • $\begingroup$ 6.0221413 * 10^23 regulations....or so it seems. This question is way too broad. $\endgroup$ Sep 11, 2016 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ Why was this closed as too broad? It is a classical question in basic aviation law, and perfectly answerable (as I think I have demonstrated) $\endgroup$ Sep 11, 2016 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @J.Hougaard: While I did vote to close it, it was for "not clear". VTR as your answer provides a clear direction. The question is not clear because there are different types of regulations: For aircraft, for pilots, for companies, for passengers, for airports, for search and rescue, for radio frequencies allocation, etc. Also "As planes fly all around the world they move from nation to nation" is not very relevant to all types. Last, in France I think all regulations are implemented in fine at the national level, even if France is part of EU, ICAO and WARC, etc. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Sep 11, 2016 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ Aviation regulations don't really stop at the national level, though. Just listing all of the individual states and municipalities in the U.S. alone that have aviation regulations would be way too broad to answer. I would be surprised if it's not the case that every U.S. state has aviation regulations and many municipalities (both in the U.S. and around the world) have them, too. Granted, these tend to be more related to things like noise abatement than safety, but they're still aviation regulations. So, the answer to this varies a lot by location. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Sep 11, 2016 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "unsafe airline"? Do you mean an airline which is forbidden to use a national airspace? $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Sep 11, 2016 at 21:33

1 Answer 1



Starting from the top, we find the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which is a United Nations agency. ICAO was formed in 1944 when the Chicago Convention was signed, and initially had 52 member states. Today, 191 states worldwide are members of ICAO. The headquarter is in Montreal, Canada, and there are 7 regional offices.
ICAO standards and other provisions are developed in the following forms:

Standards and Recommended Practises (SARPs):

Technical specifications adopted by the Council of ICAO in order to achieve the highest practicable degree of uniformity in regulations, standards, procedures and organization within air navigation. Member states will conform to standards and will endeavour to conform to recommended practises. States are invited to inform ICAO of non-compliance.

Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS)

PANS comprise operating practises and material too detailed for SARPs. They are suitable for application on a worldwide basis. Member states are invited to publish differences between national procedures when considered important in the interest of safety.

Regional Supplementary Procedures (SUPPs)

SUPPs are supplementary procedures which are only valid within one of the ICAO regional office regions. For example, there are supplementary procedures published only valid within the European/North Atlantic region.

Also worth mentioning are the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), both of which function on an (almost) global level.


Below ICAO we have regional organisations. As an example, in Europe, the European Union (EU) provides legislations for its member states. Non-regulatory organisations, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), assist the EU in developing regulations (but the EU, not EASA, is the regulatory authority).

Some areas do not have regional regulators like the EU. In such areas, national regulations are handled directly by national regulators. Within the EU, countries also have national regulators – but they are bound to base their regulations on EU regulations.


Below the regional level we have national regulators, commonly referred to as civil aviation administrations (CAA). Each country will have their own CAA. One that you will often hear about is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is the national regulator in the USA.
Generally speaking, a national regulator will be following framework regulations published by the national ministry of transport. The term ministry of transport is also sometimes applied to the departments or other government agencies administering transport in nations who do not employ ministers. The framework regulations from the ministry of transport are largely based on ICAO SARPs, PANS, SUPPs and any regional regulations (such as EU regulations).

The national regulator will publish detailed regulations, which are adapted by the air navigation service providers, as well as airlines, pilots, air traffic controllers, maintainence companies etc. etc.

The service providers, commonly referred to as ANSPs, are the organisations actually providing air navigation services, such as communication, navigation and surveillance equipment, meteorological services, air traffic management (including ATC), aeronautical information and search and rescue. Most ANSPs operate within a single nation, but there are also multinational ANSPs, a few examples are ASCENA (Africa and Madagascar), COCESNA (Central America), EUROCONTROL (Benelux) and NUAC (Sweden and Denmark).

The service providers work together with the national regulators to develop detailed procedures, but do not (usually) have any regulatory authority.


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