Celebrating 75 years of serving civil aviation in South America

From the vast expanses of the Amazon to the imposing peaks of the Andes, South America has been a continent of natural wealth and cultural diversity. This geographical grandness has presented unique challenges for connectivity and development. For over a century, humanity has sought to conquer the skies, and in our region, that quest has been particularly fervent. For 75 years the ICAO South American Regional Office has navigated these challenges, turning them into opportunities and uniting nations through the power of civil aviation.

The history of aviation in South America is not just a chronicle of technological and logistical advances but a narrative of unity, progress, and determination.

ICAO’s  South American Regional Office

The Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO), later the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), emerged as essential to counter post-World War I isolationism and promote global cooperation in civil aviation. Although the initial Chicago Convention did not originally consider a regional dimension, it was recognized that addressing regional technical issues and navigation requirements was more effective. In 1945, the world was divided into ten flight regions, and regional offices were established to address specific issues in each area. Regional Air Navigation Services Organizations (RANSOs, later RANs) were created to cooperate on air navigation, interpret standards, and develop local operational practices. The ten original regions included:

  • North Pacific
  • South Pacific
  • Caribbean
  • South America
  • North Atlantic
  • South Atlantic
  • Europe and the Mediterranean
  • African-Indian Ocean
  • Middle East
  • Southeast Asia

The beginnings of air navigation plans

Regional Route Service Conferences, later known as Regional Air Navigation Meetings (RANMs), were held in each region or in areas covering multiple regions. During the 16th session of the ICAO Council in 1952, some of the air navigation regions merged to reduce them from ten to eight. This was done to coordinate early actions and ensure the continuity of military facilities useful for international civil aviation. One example of this would be  in the North Atlantic, where regional meetings such as the North Atlantic Route Service Conference in 1946 were held, addressing various aspects of aviation in that region, including the development of a North Atlantic Route Manual.

Over the years, similar meetings were held, divided into committees on communications, air traffic control, meteorology, aerodromes and ground aids, and search and rescue.

The manual would address the needs of crews and ground personnel, including unique North Atlantic procedures and details about facilities. One sheet per aerodrome with procedure and approach charts on one side and a detailed landing area chart on the other side was suggested.

Five RAN meetings were held during the PICAO years, creating a regional air navigation route service or manual to assist in implementing the recommended Standards and Practices. Typically, a regional office was established following a regional air navigation meeting held in that region, with the function of compiling and editing regional manuals, acting as a correspondence and information exchange center, and organizing and serving as secretariat for regional meetings.

This marked the beginning of one of the main functions of ICAO Regional Offices: maintaining what we now know as the Regional Air Navigation Plan, which outlines service provision responsibilities and future implementations for modernization. These regional plans are now linked to what we know as the Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP), and the Regional Air Navigation Plan has evolved into three volumes.

In 1947, ICAO replaced the Provisional Organization and established offices in Paris, Dublin, Cairo, Melbourne, and Montreal. In 1948, the number of regional offices was reduced to five, with territorial representation rather than regional representation. The offices were located in North America, South America, Europe and Africa, the Middle East and the Far East, and the Pacific. In 1952, the Far East and Pacific Office was moved to Bangkok.

In 1956, the Caribbean Regional Office became independent in Mexico City. In 1963, a sixth Regional Office was established in Dakar for African States. In 1969, the transfer of regional offices to the Office of the Secretary General was approved. In 1983, the seventh regional office was created in Nairobi, which was later divided into the East and Southern Africa Office and the West and Central Africa Office.

The South American Regional Office in Lima

In the context of this regional development of ICAO and in response to an invitation from the Government of Peru to act as the host State, the first Regional Air Navigation Meeting for South America was held in Lima, at the Collique airport facilities, in 1947.

Following the precedent of other regional meetings, the establishment of a Regional Office for South America was requested. The ICAO Council, after analyzing the various offers made by the States of the Region, decided to establish the headquarters of the South American Regional Office in Lima, Peru, based on its geographical location and the facilities offered by the Peruvian Government for the establishment and operation of the South American Regional Office. A convention between Peru and the International Civil Aviation Organization was signed on 22 October 1948, establishing its headquarters in the terminal building of the Limatambo Airport, operated by the recently established Peruvian Corporation of Airports and Commercial Aviation (CORPAC).

The ICAO headquarters in Peru has undergone two significant relocations: first to the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima/Callao in 1969, and then to a strategic location in San Isidro in 2006. Since its founding, the Regional Office has had the following Regional Directors:

  • Hernán B. González (Chile) as the initial Deputy Director (March 1948-1952)
  • Colonel Cloice Joseph Tippett (USA), pilot of the Flying Tigers (1952-1960)
  • César Piacena (Uruguay) (1960, only 3 months)
  • Robert Steward (Chile) as Acting Director (1960)
  • Edgar Pol Pacieri (Bolivia) (1960-1978)
  • Rafael Henriquez Theran (Colombia) (1978-1987)
  • Edgar Pol Pacieri (Bolivia) (1987-1988)
  • Paulo Imre Hegedus (Brazil) (1988-2001)
  • José Miguel Ceppi (Chile) (2001-2009)
  • Franklin Hoyer (Brazil) (2009-2017)
  • Fabio Rabbani (Brazil) (2018-)

Our Regional office has been guided by many visionary leaders. Though each has faced challenges depending on the eras in which they served, they have all forged the opportunities to better serve civil aviation in South America.

Lima is a major hub for aviation in the American continent and offers the advantage that the main capitals of the continent can be reached on average in 4.6 hours of flight. The strategic location and sea-level elevation of the city of Lima offer significant advantages for the activities of a Regional Office. Our renowned cuisine is also a major attraction for visitors, and our temperate climate, with virtually no rain, provides ideal conditions for a regional headquarters. Throughout the years, Peru has been characterized for offering invaluable support to all international personnel and operations of the Regional Office.  The professionalism and capacity of the local staff are undoubtedly part of a history of service and excellence.

Costa Verde de Miraflores.

Our operational environment in South America

With 5.7% of the world’s population, the South American continent represents approximately 12% of the world’s land area and 5% of global air traffic in terms of passengers carried, and 16% of flight information regions (FIRs). South America is the fourth-largest continent in the world in terms of land area, after Asia, Africa, and North America. Our vast expanse encompasses a variety of landscapes and ecosystems, from tropical rainforests in the Amazon Basin to high mountains in the Andes and vast plains in the Gran Chaco region.

South America is a multilingual and diverse region. Spanish is the dominant language, except in Brazil, Guyana, and Suriname, where Portuguese, English, and Dutch are spoken, respectively. South America is also rich in indigenous languages such as Quechua, Guarani, and Aymara. The proportion of speakers varies between countries and regions due to cultural diversity. Many people in South America are bilingual or multilingual. In Guyana, Suriname, and the Falkland Islands/Malvinas*, which are territories or countries with British, French, and Dutch influence, English, French, and Dutch are spoken. Proficiency in Romance languages (Spanish and Portuguese) provides an important advantage for understanding among States, which may explain the high level of regional collaboration that facilitates the work of the Regional Office.

The Andes mountains and the Amazon jungle represent challenges for other modes of transportation. Likewise, each country in the region has vast territories. The Mercator map can lead to incorrect conclusions. The reality is that the territorially smallest country in South America (Suriname) is only half the size of present-day Germany. Some South American countries have a high dependence on aviation for the transport of people and cargo. Air transport is vital for social and economic development.

In our region the main flow of flight operations is north-south, which can be explained by the ties that bind South America to Europe and, of course, the United States. The vast Pacific and Atlantic Oceans make South America a somewhat isolated region, even though the shortest flight between South America and Africa may only require three to four hours of flight.

The role of the South American Regional Office

The SAM Office is a key player in the Region, working to achieve regional consensus in line with ICAO’s strategic objectives and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We guide States with a strong focus on the development of civil aviation in the Region and a commitment to serving States, consistent with the reality of international civil servants. SAM’s vision is based on regional integration and cooperation. In recent decades, South America has been positioned as a leading region in operational safety with proactive participation in global forums.

Horizontal cooperation among States is always present as an ideal option to overcome the challenges faced by both regional and global aviation. Since the 1990s, regional projects have been implemented under this concept of cooperation, aimed at assisting in the implementation of Recommended Standards and Practices, with the Regional Office acting as the coordinating entity.

The 1996 South American Directors Meeting in Cuzco marked an important milestone in the creation of the following regional cooperation programmes:

  • Latin American Aeronautical Regulations (LAR)
  • Support for air navigation improvements
  • Aeronautical communications infrastructure REDDIG

Today, we have an integrated region with a strong sense of teamwork and support among all, seeking to promote civil aviation that connects the people of South America to foster their socio-economic development. As a result, significant progress has been made in achieving regional objectives for operational safety and air navigation capacity and efficiency.

ICAO SAM Office with the Secretary General of ICAO, Juan Carlos Salazar

The future of civil aviation in the Region

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on civil aviation in the Region and the world. Many paradigms were shattered because of the restrictions, leaving States and the industry to find ways to assist the aviation system in the recovery. Restoring public confidence, as well as regaining the same levels of safety and efficiency in the system, were some of the main challenges that civil aviation authorities faced. This, coupled with budget constraints due to changing priorities, made the outlook even more challenging.

Member States, with the support of the Regional Office, joined efforts to create a strategic framework for the Region’s response to COVID-19. This framework served for the Civil Aviation Authorities of the Region to implement mechanisms in a structured and harmonized manner to get civil aviation back on track. Efforts paid off, and despite the circumstances and challenges, the Region was one of the first to recover pre-pandemic air traffic levels worldwide.

After this phase, States faced new challenges, including how to be more competitive in a world hit by post-pandemic global crises, coping with new disruptive technologies, along with a generational turnover issue and, not least, the impact of climate change on our States.

That is why, in 2023, in a constantly evolving global landscape, the civil aviation authorities of the South American Region, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), industry associations and aircraft manufacturers gathered in Santiago, Chile, for the Seventeenth Meeting of Civil Aviation Directors of the South American Region (RAAC17), to conduct a strategic exercise that provided transformative guidelines to ensure the growth and sustainable development of the aviation industry as an effective tool for promoting social and economic development in our Region. The theme of this meeting was “Let’s Transform South America”.

The resounding success of the RAAC/17 sessions underscored the vitality of adopting innovation, technological prowess, and collaborative commitment. This transformative process encourages us to chart a course towards a revitalized civil aviation sector in the South American Region, strengthened by strategic skill and collective determination. To achieve optimal results and drive the aviation sector forward, States, with the support of the Regional Office, decided to focus their discussions on the following six pillars: competitiveness, environmental sustainability, human resources, aviation planning effectiveness, Civil Aviation Authority governance, and innovation.

By promoting these core elements, civil aviation authorities can collaborate to pave the way for improving conditions within the aviation sector, reaping substantial benefits for their respective populations.

From there, the SAM 2035 Strategy was born, which will serve as a tool for States to transition to the future. While the Bogotá Declaration of 2013 produced significant results in the past, its objectives ultimately expired, necessitating the formulation of new goals in line with the Declaration to Promote Connectivity through the Development and Sustainability of Air Transport in the Pan-American Region (IWAF/4).

In conclusion, the interaction between competitiveness, environmental sustainability, human resources, strategic planning, governance, and innovation is vital to promote better conditions for the aviation sector in the SAM Region and its impact on society. SAM Civil Aviation Authorities, acting as managers of this industry, have the responsibility to integrate these pillars into their policies and practices, fostering an aviation landscape that not only contributes to economic prosperity but also resonates with the values and aspirations of their populations.

Over 75 years, we have seen how aviation has transformed life, the economy, and culture in South America. Through every challenge, through every crisis, we have emerged stronger and united. With the guidance of visionary leaders, the support of collaborating nations, and the constant guidance of the ICAO South American Regional Office, there are no limits to what we can achieve. The sky is not the limit; it is just our starting point. Together, we continue to soar the skies with determination and vision, ready to face any challenge that comes our way. After all, the sky is our home. Forward and upward, together in unity and purpose!

* A dispute exists between the government of Argentina and the government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)



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