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Given the two facts:

  • According to wikipedia, the IATA represent a little more than 80% of available seat kilometers. It makes sense as some airlines are not IATA members.
  • Under each region over the world, an organisation is dedicated to make sure civilian aviation is safe, following ICAO's standards (EASA in Europe, FAA in US, ...)

As I understand, the IATA has its own certification program (IOSA). It seems to me that it doesn't make sense: it doesn't cover all commercial aviation (some low cost carrier are not part of the IATA and still represent a significant part of the traffic), and its purpose is the same as other civilian organisation (FAA, EASA,...) acting under the ICAO's rules.

I'm quite sure I'm missing something, but is the IOSA useful as it does not cover significant airlines and its purpose seems to be covered by other organisations?

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IOSA is basically an audit program under IATA. It is not a regulatory regime and as such is different from the FAA, EASA etc, which have force of law. In fact, IOSA is only one of the various audits offered by IATA, which include:

IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA)

IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO)

IATA Standard Safety Assessment (ISSA)

IATA Fuel Quality Pool (IFQP)

IATA Drinking-Water Quality Pool (IDQP)

IATA De-Icing/Anti-Icing Quality Control Pool (DAQCP)

IOSA deals with the operational management and control systems of an airline. The IOSA standards and recommended practices are derived from the ICAO recommendations. From the IOSA Standards Manual

Sources for IOSA Standards and Recommended Practices (ISARPs)

The safety and security requirements published in the Annexes to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (ICAO Annexes) are the primary source for specifications contained in the ISARPs. Safety and security requirements in the ICAO Annexes used as the basis for ISARPs are those that are applicable either directly or indirectly to the air operator.

However, these standards are not regulations (as are those defined by FAA etc.):

ISARPs contained in this manual have been developed solely for use under the IOSA program and contain the operational criteria upon which the audits are based. ISARPs are not regulations. (emphasis original).

The usefulness of the IOSA to airlines if from the fact that it is a standard recognized by most other airlines- instead of going to different auditors to ensure compliance of standards, they can agree on a common standard (also IOSA is required for IATA membership).

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I feel it is important to state my credentials before answering this question to establish credibility.

We develop aviation safety software which includes an auditing suite. The audit suite contains IATA's IOSA and ISAGO auditing checklists that airlines use as pre-audit checklists.

Secondly, we work with both IATA certified operators and airlines that have not joined.

Disclaimer: just because an operator has an IATA certification does not mean it is safer. Many airlines game the system. For example, an IOSA-certified Pakistan airline is great at passing an IOSA audit, but the line-level employees know nothing about the safety program. How do I know? I have frank discussions with safety managers around the world about their experiences, and they share some troubling stories.

Regardless of whether an airline is earnest in complying with IATA safety requirements, there are benefits even to operators who are gaming the system.

Now, to answer your question on the value of the IATA audit. Let's consider a scenario where ABC airline wants to do business with a customer in another country, such as flying cargo or conducting operations under the banner of the customer's company.

The customer naturally wants to be assured that ABC airline has a bona-fide safety program. There are two ways to do this. The customer can send auditors to ABC Airline and audit their SMS (safety management system), or the customer can rely upon IATA's endorsement.

Obviously it is cheaper for the customer to rely upon IATA's endorsement.

Also, the benefit is that the contract can close considerably quicker, as the customer does not have to send auditors to ABC airline and spend a week inspecting ABC's operations.

Now let's consider the ISAGO ground handling audit. This requires some background from ICAO's Document 9859 in 9.3.5.15, which I'll paraphrase: "Service providers are responsible for the safety performance of external organizations who are providing products or services supporting the operator's activities, even if the external organization is not required to have a formal SMS."

As you can imagine, airlines fly to different countries where they may need to contract out their ground handling services (fueling, baggage handling, catering). It is easier for the contracting airline to rely upon IATA's certification instead of going to each ground handler in the foreign country and auditing the ground handler every six months or a year, depending on the audit schedule.

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