An interview with ICAO Bureau Director Jorge Vargas

In a recent conversation with the Director of ICAO’s Technical Co-operation Bureau, Mr. Jorge Vargas shared his vision for air transport and how the activities in this Bureau help to support this vision. 

The Technical Cooperation Bureau (TCB) of ICAO provides enhanced, accessible, and efficient technical help and cooperation projects and activities across the full spectrum of civil aviation. TCB gives Member States and the aviation industry effective and comprehensive solutions to achieve safety, security, environmental protection, and sustainable development in national and international civil aviation.

The self-sufficiency of developing countries in the aviation field is a key objective for TCB. The Bureau expects to improve social, human and economic conditions by improving the aeronautical infrastructure, services and environmental protection of these countries. It also aims to strengthen civil aviation’s operational safety, security, efficiency and regularity, and to contribute to the global and uniform implementation of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs). TCB advises and assists States in identifying and planning country and inter-country programmes and project requests. It also enables States to better face the continuously changing aviation environment by strengthening civil aviation institutions.

In addition, TCB provides a wide range of services, which include reviewing the structure and organization of national civil aviation institutions, updating the infrastructure and services of airports, protecting the environment, and facilitating technology transfer and capacity-building. These services promote ICAO SARPs and support remedial action resulting from the audits carried out by the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) and the Universal Security Audit Programme (USAP). TCB offers its services under the most favourable and cost-effective conditions and guarantees strict neutrality, objectivity and transparency.

Mr. Jorge Vargas, Director of ICAO’s Technical Co-operation Bureau

Q: ICAO’s No Country Left Behind initiative was launched to ensure that all countries can access the sustainable development benefits of ICAO-compliant air connectivity. How has TCB been contributing to this objective during the pandemic?

A: Through the various established channels of communication with Member States, TCB has been evaluating the evolving customer needs, especially during the pandemic. In line with the priorities established by the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force, as well as the support of ICAO’s seven Regional Offices that are actively in touch with Member States, TCB has been able to assess and respond to immediate pandemic needs.

One of the ways TCB has responded is through the development and deployment of Implementation Packages (iPacks), in close coordination with ICAO technical Bureaus and regional offices. An iPack is a bundle of standardized guidance material, training, tools and expert support which aim to facilitate and guide the implementation of ICAO provisions for State entities (e.g. governments, civil aviation authorities, national air transport facilitation committees…), aviation service providers, supply chain stakeholders and their personnel.

These iPacks, which represent a new method to support States, have the goal and objectives to ensure the safety and security of operations during the pandemic as well as during the recovery phase in all ICAO Member States. As of September 2021, over 40 States have benefited from these bundles of implementation support to efficiently operate and recover from the impact of the pandemic. In addition, in coordinating with ICAO’s Resource Mobilization unit, funding has been obtained to deploy iPacks in States with limited resources, to support their recovery efforts, in line with ICAO’s No Country Left Behind Initiative.

Q: How do the challenges and opportunities vary between regions?

A: The challenges and opportunities vary indeed between regions, as each region is unique and vastly different in many ways: regulatory status, technological advancement, size of the domestic and international markets, economic regulations, availability and proper organization of competent staff,  and staffing and funding of government authorities, to name a few.

In some of these regions, there are economic or political unions and/or Civil Aviation Commissions, in which there is a high degree of harmonization and support among the member States. In other regions, States are more diverse. As a direct consequence of these different situations, the needs vary considerably between the regions and often within a region.  In addition, there are different budgets available for projects. TCB is in an excellent position to assess, deal and overcome all these issues, as it works closely with national project teams in designing effective and sustainable projects. The ICAO Regional Offices as well as technical colleagues from Air Navigation and Air Transport Bureaus provide the necessary input and guidance in the project design and implementation phases.

Q: TCB of course isn’t just about the development of the physical infrastructure, it’s also about ensuring the development of the human resources needed to operate this infrastructure. How do you see this reciprocating relationship in terms of the safety, security, and sustainability of global aviation?

A: Similar to TCB projects and iPacks, we keep abreast of training needs by assessing the new demands of the aviation community. This is undertaken via Members of the ICAO TRAINAIR PLUS Progamme, ICAO’s network of recognized training organizations, as well as our colleagues in the Regional Offices, who are key to inform us of the emerging training needs. Additionally, we also ensure that relevant training to implement new SARPs are identified, in coordination with ICAO’s technical Bureaus. As a result of this consultative process, over 300 courses have been developed to support States in their implementation of Standards and Recommended Practices and to operate our industry in an effective and efficient manner.

Additionally, during the pandemic, key training has been developed to support COVID recovery efforts, in the fields of public health corridors, establishing facilitation committees, conducting aviation safety risk management related to COVID-19 for CAAs, or in the digital transformation in Aviation.

Q: ICAO’s Global Aviation Training obviously underpins much of ICAO’s human resource development initiatives broadly speaking. What specifically can you tell us about its mandate and objectives?

A: ICAO’S GAT mandate is to plan, manage, and coordinate ICAO aviation training activities in order to ensure the efficient, effective, and harmonized implementation of the Training Policy and the adequate response to training needs of Member States, international and regional organizations, service providers, and other partners. Ultimately, GAT aims to become the primary provider of innovative training products and services to support Member States and industry to comply with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) as well as contribute to the evolving skills requirements of aviation professionals.

GAT aims to provide its clients with diversified, innovative and high-quality training solutions on relevant key competencies through ICAO branding at a competitive pricing advantage, enabling greater global accessibility for States and their aviation professionals.

We are aware that the only way we can achieve these objectives is by partnering with training centres and organizations globally. Today, ICAO training is disseminated in all parts of the worlds thanks to our extensive network of partners, through the ICAO TRAINAIR PLUS Programme. We are very grateful for their commitment and support in the joint development and delivery of courses to better implement ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices.

Q: Three global plans – for air navigation, safety, and security, respectively – are guiding States cooperation in these three key areas. How Is TCB involved in the implementation of these?

A: TCB provides a large portfolio of services to assist States and regional bodies in their implementation of these global plans. We provide the implementation support through subject matter expertise, training of personnel, fellowships, and procurement to guide States on how to implement these plans.

With regard to experts, we provide experts under different contractual arrangements and for different durations. For example, we have short-term consultants, advisors as TCB field staff, and operational assistance experts who will become part of the national authority’s staff. In addition, we can have national professionals who are recruited locally. TCB supports member States in building professional capacity at management, technical and operational levels within its civil aviation administrations by offering fellowships and in-country training.

Through the Global Aviation Training Programme TCB is providing member States with targeted assistance and capacity-building in air navigation, safety, and security. Moreover, the TRAINAIR PLUS Programme’s (TPP) growing network of training organizations, academic institutions, and corporate partners, over one hundred TPP Members across all regions ensures that suitable training courses in these areas are available to all States.

ICAO/TCB supports CAAs and service providers’ procurement needs for more than 60 years. TCB’s procurement service is unique in that it offers the clients an assurance of quality, neutrality, and transparency. In response to a CAAs and service providers needs’ survey, TCB has undertaken a competitive tendering process in strict compliance with ICAO Procurement Policies for the provision of the most in-demand products related to the fields of air navigation, safety, and security. The expected consolidated volume has helped ICAO to negotiate better prices and discounts with suppliers, which can now be fully transferred to CAAs and service providers procuring through ICAO.

Q: ICAO focuses a lot of resources advocating for the sustainable development benefits of aviation, and of the importance of States implementing adequate economic development strategies to support it. This includes investment in their aviation sectors. What does this mean for TCB in particular?

A: Aviation has been a major contributor to the economical and social development of all States. And aviation will continue to play this vital role in the future. As the economic, legal, social, and technological environment changes constantly, investments in infrastructure, hiring of competent personnel and retaining them as well as keeping their knowledge and skills up-to-date through training, will be required.

First, this means that the aviation sector and especially the national authorities need proper funding from their governments. We can provide assistance with expertise for the proper organizational structure, staffing, training, and financing of national authorities. Civil Aviation Master Plans (CAMPs) are an important planning tool for the civil aviation sector. TCB has experience in providing a team of experts for the preparation of a CAMP.

In addition to the CAMP, the service providers need to have plans for meeting the anticipated demand, technological changes, and proper staffing with competent people. In the fields of aerodromes and air navigation services TCB has implemented many projects and is ready to assist any of these entities who may need support.

Q: The aviation world has vastly changed during the recent pandemic. How has TCB changed during the past months and what measures are taken to remain the reliable, cost-efficient and impartial partner supporting States?

A: Our staff are key to TCB’s success in providing assistance to States, for over 60 years now. Thus we took all the precautions and adopted a work from home, or anywhere. Because of the pandemic, no courses could be delivered in classroom settings. Our colleagues from GAT achieved in record time the conversion of over 50 critical classroom courses into virtual courses, and these have found great acceptance as our statistics show.

The TCB project managers successfully arranged with States that subject matter experts could provide their technical expertise remotely to continue working on our projects. Where feasible, this remote work offers many advantages including cost savings for our clients.

iPacks have proven to meet a new demand that arose through the pandemic. Our new approach of working more closely with the technical bureaus of ICAO such as ANB and ATB, the Regional Offices, and donors was essential in this success.

Based on the great experience with the iPacks, we are looking forward to further diversifying the products and services of the Bureau to ensure States are provided with the accessible, effective and innovative options to support their immediate and longer-term SARPs implementation activities.


aviation recoveryaviation trainingGlobal Aviation TrainingTechnical Cooperation