ANC Talks: Water Aerodromes

The Air Navigation Commission began a new session of engaging discussions that bring industry and aviation stakeholders together to discuss different aspects of aviation - this is ANC Talks.

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On Monday, September 14th, the ANC Talk Series opened a new session on the topic of water aerodromes. After the President of Air Navigation Commission, Nabil Naoumi opened the session, ACI’s Director General, Luis Felipe de Oliveira; Indonesia Ambassador A.K. Jailani assisted by Vic Van Der Westhuizen; Transport Canada’s Patrick Juneau; and Osamu Marumoto from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), provided presentations.

Indonesia is a State with 17,508 islands that include five major ones and 30 smaller groups of them. In their presentation they gave a comprehensive summary of the water aerodromes in Indonesia, addressing both the challenges and the way forward, based on their experiences and the progress they hoped to see. Water aerodromes-seaplanes have pivotal importance in their nation, providing accessibility in remote areas and those with water surrounding them. Indonesia recommended that global Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) be identified and identified a need for ICAO provisions for water aerodrome certification and seaplane operations. Indonesia believes that many States have many unregistered aerodromes and that this leads to a lack of USOAP-CMA protocol questions related to the certification of such water aerodromes, aprons, marking of runways and taxiways and visual signs.

Through Resolution A40-8, the ICAO Council was instructed to:

  1. review the existing SARPs related to aerodromes; and
  2. develop specific Standards and Recommended Practices to address the design, certification, management, safety and reporting requirements for water aerodromes operations.

Indonesia asked the ANC to establish an appropriate forum to develop global Standards. They recognized both the importance of water aerodromes and the need for further developing them. It was their belief that by the year 2030, it would be the third means of travel.

Indonesia observed that seaplanes are the best mode of transportation for geographically isolated areas and are best used during disaster relief-emergency evacuations. Small developing States tend to rely heavily economically on seaplane operations, which also provide tourism-recreational access to such States. Seaplanes can accommodate over 500,000 passengers annually. Russia and China are amongst the States with the largest passenger seaplanes.

Though water aerodrome certification is required for States before they open to the public, the procedures differ from State to State. There is a need for global harmonization. Currently, there are no guidelines for seaplane docks, ramps and supporting facilities. The imposed requirements by States for water aerodrome licensing also requires global harmonization. With a lack of USOAP-CMA protocol questions for States to self-assess, there is a need for new safety requirements for water aerodromes.

The basic standards in current use by several States include:

  1. Water runway(s) –number and orientation
  2. Length of water runways –adequate
  3. Width of water runways –min 60 m (197 ft)
  4. Water runway strip –30 m (100 ft)
  5. Taxi channel (taxiway) –width 45 m (150 ft)
  6. Runway water depth –min 1.8 m (6 ft)
  7. Turning basins (holding point) –at each end of water runway
  8. Mooring facilities –embarkation/disembarkation passengers and cargo loading
  9. Shore facilities-fixed or floating platform

Water aerodromes requirements are different: all seaplanes are considered vessels (boats) while operating on the water; seaplanes are subject to marine rules on water and civil aviation Standards/regulations in the air; different aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) procedures/equipment; water aerodrome markings under IMO Requirements;

A water aerodrome emergency plan is different from that used for land. Aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF), a highly specialised discipline of fire service, requires special training for water operations. Among the hazards associated with seaplane operations: passenger evacuation takes place in a further life-threatening environment; quick onset of hypothermia and associated effects; immediate toxicity and respiratory effects on survivors in the water; and difficulty in the recovery of disabled aircraft. Sufficient resources in the first response and success of first “attack” are essential for a successful outcome; an aerodrome emergency plan (AEP) should contain water rescue and fire response.

Though Indonesia recommended the way forward, ICAO must work with the IMO to address this issue. As a Council Member State of the IMO, Indonesia can assist both parties to participate and work together with States under the leadership of ICAO, to clarify IMO’s role and amend it if necessary. The current ICAO/IMO IAMSAR Agreement is an example of two specialized UN agencies working together.


The presentation from Transport Canada focused on international and Canadian context, safety and Canadian draft standards for water airports, and the way forward as well.

Canada, with more than 30,000 islands, is also a State that uses water aerodromes. In line with “No Country Left behind”, they expressed the need for establishing global Standards and water aerodrome certification and seaplane operations. The need for specific expertise in water operations is evident since this is a major economic driver for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Reference was also made to Annex 14 — Aerodromes, which can be applied for the most part, to both land and water aerodromes. It was noted that there have been no certification requirements from ICAO since 1964 for water aerodromes and Annex 14 does not differentiate between land and water surface. Though there are different operational and safety risks when operating onto and from water, there are no standardized international specifications for water aerodromes.

There are distinct requirements for land and water. Current ICAO SARPs apply to land aerodromes (i.e. the slope of the ground, size and colour of markings painted on the pavement, the load-bearing capacity of the pavement, location and colour and size of signs, etc.). Water aerodromes have unique characteristics that include landing surface changes with the rise and fall of the tides; the speed and direction of currents; maritime markings and buoys; surface or submerged hazards such as shoals and log booms; and multi-use aircraft, vessels and recreational boaters.

From an operational point of view, Canada’s focus is on safety. Aircraft operations on water differ significantly from those on land: the physical characteristics, mooring procedures, rescue and firefighting, nexus of air and marine, traffic management and encroaching waterfront land development, are just a few ways.

The Canadian Aeronautics Act considers an aerodrome to be any area of land, water (including the frozen surface thereof) or other supporting surface used, designed, prepared, equipped or set apart for use either in whole or in part for the arrival, departure, movement or servicing of aircraft and includes any buildings, installations and equipment situated thereon or associated therewith. As such, the certification requirements are currently:  CAR 302, an aerodrome that is located in a built-up area of a city or town;

land aerodrome, scheduled service for the transport of passengers or, the ministries believe that it is in the public interest to enhance the water aerodrome regulations, based on recognized safety parameters to:

  1. ensure a minimum level of safety for scheduled passengers -ticket holders, the highest volume of travelling public;
  2. ensure a minimum level of safety for third parties –the general public;
  3. consistent application of safety requirements for the same type of activities for all aerodromes -Airports, Heliports and Water Airports; and
  4. future potential for Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) approaches in the future

The goal of draft Canadian Standards is to increase the level of safety for passengers, crew and populated areas surrounding a water airport and ensures take-off/approach areas, manoeuvring areas, and landing sites are adequate for the intended operations. The content in the Canadian Standards covers Personnel –water airport operators, units of measurement, airport data. The physical characteristics contain obstacle limitation surfaces and objects.

The Canadian presentation continued with the Personnel–Responsibilities for water airport operators to ensure their safety by exercising operational control, coordinating functions and ensuring regulatory compliance e.g. maintenance, supervising, organizing and staffing of docking, refuelling, passenger safety, training programs (knowledge transfer of safety info), and SMS, liaising with regulatory authority and external agencies, distributing accident, incident and other occurrence reports, and auctioning aeronautical information, qualifications of staff and appropriate delegation of duties and maintaining a current water airport operations library.

It was further stated that the operations manual of water aerodromes would contain, among other things, physical characteristics and water airport boundary; the level of service and the types of services that would be provided (including emergency); critical aircraft that is intended to operate at the water airport; organizational structure; standard operational procedures; and any agreement or memorandum of understanding that affects the operation of the water airport, including emergency services.

The future requirements for seaplane operations in Canada include life vest requirement for all passengers and pilots from September 2021 and the Emergency Egress Training for Pilots in 2022. Moving onward Canada is ready to support “No Country Left Behind” initiative by providing expertise and draft standards as a starting point. Moreover, Canada welcomes the opportunity to participate in panel discussions in working toward the development of comprehensive international SARPs for water aerodromes.


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) began with IMO regulatory framework on the navigation of vessels -with relevance to seaplanes and WIG craft, IMO is primarily a UN technical organization with a mission for “Safe, Secure and Efficient Shipping on Cleaner Oceans. It has 174 members and three associated members with their Headquarters in the United Kingdom, since 1958.

Although the objectives of IMO are different, they recognized some similarities vis-à-vis ICAO. There are five technical Committees within IMO – and they felt the most relevant Committee for Water Aerodromes would be the Maritime Safety Committee. The subcommittee, MSC, is, the most relevant, for working with navigation communication and search and rescue, given that this is a universal function that can also apply to water aerodromes. The unique nature of such aircraft and aerodromes and their special requirements was acknowledged. The IMO believes that although States are responsible for the rules and regulations for such systems to operate within their territories and nothing prevents States from setting such routine rules and regulations, which are currently in practice, a global Standard will facilitate the implementation worldwide.

Following the ANC Talks, Indonesia, Ambassador A.K. Jailani and Transport Canada’s Patrick Juneau participated in further discussions with the President of Air Navigation Commission, Nabil Naoumi, on this topic. You can watch this conversation by clicking on the below image: