ICAO’s South American Region: aerodrome certification progress from 2016 to 2019

Aerodromes are one of the most important links in the civil aviation network. They are the key interface between the passengers and the aircraft, and the location where every flight begins and ends.

In the South American (SAM) Region, airports are a fundamental component of every State’s socio-economic well-being. They serve several purposes, from connecting people and business to serving as the main port of entry for disaster recovery, and as such, the safety of aerodrome infrastructure and operations is fundamental to the public’s continued trust in air transport.

SAM States that have made commendable airport certification progress: 

Uruguay – Taking advantage of its close relationship to, and coordination with their main airport operator Puerta del Sur, Uruguay was the first State to adopt the LAR AGA set and use it to certify their main international gateway: Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo (SUMU). The State is currently in the process of certifying its second international airport, Laguna del Sauce Airport, which will ensure 100% certification of their international aerodromes.Chile – After adopting the LAR AGA set, creating a new Certification Unit in their Aerodromes department, and receiving training by the SRVSOP, Chile certified their first aerodrome, Arica International Airport (SCAR) in 2016. They are now on a path to finishing their certification efforts by 2021, providing a great example of how high-level political commitments can drive real implementation changes.

Colombia – After large investments in many of their international airports, Colombia has gone from having no international aerodromes certified in 2016 to having five facilities representing 45% national aerodrome certification achieved as of today. The State is updating their regulations to be harmonized with the LAR AGA set, both to complete the remaining certifications and to ensure continuous safety oversight for all certified facilities.

Argentina – After a complete shift in their aviation policy and many changes within their organization, ANAC Argentina worked on harmonizing their regulations with the LAR AGA set. This effort resulted in a brand new and modernized set of national aerodrome regulations (RAAC), their first international aerodrome certification in 2019, and an aggressive plan to certify the rest of their 16 international aerodromes in cooperation with their main airport operator, Aeropuertos Argentina 2000.

Peru – Peru certified their main terminal in Lima many years ago, but had seven other facilities still awaiting certification. After participating in several events and learning first-hand from States like Brazil on how to resolve their infrastructure and procedural issues, Peru took advantage of guidance from the PANS Aerodromes (ICAO Doc 9981) and certified Chiclayo (SPHI) airport in November 2019.

It is fundamental for States to ensure safe, resilient and efficient aerodrome operations throughout its territories, and a proven and effective way to do so is through aerodrome certification.

For airport safety stakeholders, however, whether regulatory or operational, it’s well-established that one of the biggest challenges they face is to fully comply with the international Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) on aerodromes as published by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

This is especially challenging for airport facilities that were built decades ago, even before the first edition of ICAO Annex 14 – Aerodromes was published (in 1951, at the onset of the jet age).

As explained in this related article by Avner Shilo, the certification process comprises a series of activities designed to verify that the aerodrome’s facilities, design, equipment, and operational procedures are fully ICAO compliant. This, in turn, ensures their safe operations and supports the optimization of aerodrome capacity and efficiency region-wide.

Adherence to these SARPs has been a mandatory requirement for ICAO Member States since 2001. Greater collaboration between ICAO, its South American Member States, aerodrome operators, and international organizations in the Region is helping all concerned to make huge new strides toward closing persisting certification gaps.

These gaps, for example, saw only 8% of SAM Region international aerodromes being able to be certified as of 2013, leading to a new Regional target driven by ICAO’s SAM Regional Office to increase that percentage to 20% by 2016.

The strategy established at that time was to pursue the new targets under the collaborative ‘GREPECAS’ framework, while leveraging the power of the SAM Regional Safety Oversight Cooperation System or ‘SRVSOP’ to promote horizontal collaboration between States.

This coordination allowed them to draft a common model regulatory framework under the Latin American Regulations or LAR AGA, thus permitting SAM States to pursue harmonized objectives and take advantage of the economies of scale that it offers with respect to training activities, guidance material, and technical assistance.

Image courtesy of Aeropuerto de Carrasco Airport

Another initiative taken by the SAM Regional Office was to adjust its related objectives and forums such that not only local State governments, but also airport operators and other industry and multilateral partners could participate more meaningfully in the process.

This work began in earnest in 2016, with joint Aerodrome Certification events being organized with the support of the SRVSOP, Airports Council International (ACI-LAC), the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), AIRBUS, and many SAM Member States such as Brazil, where a uniquely tailored “Brazilian Experience” airport certification process was established.

There has been tremendous uptake across the SAM Region, and to stay with Brazil as the example, its approach led to the certification of facilities encompassing almost 100% of their international passenger traffic by [2017]. Additional successful examples of SAM States who have made excellent progress in this area since 2016 are highlighted in the above sidebar.

Figure 1: Charting the ICAO SAM region’s progress from 8% to over 40% certification of international airports since 2013.

With global and regional air traffic continuously growing, the importance of new airport projects to manage future capacity, and the certification of existing facilities, remain key regional priorities. The good news is that a formula is now in place and that’s its working for all States willing to make the necessary commitments.