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Raising the Bar on Safety Excellence

In this month's Safety Library article our Safety Specialists explore

ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP)

Author: Kobus du Plessis, research by Yovesh Naidoo

For safety is not a gadget but a state of mind. – Eleanor Everet

What is the ICAO USOAP?

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is responsible for establishing global standards and regulations for aviation safety, security, efficiency and environmental protection. One of the initiatives aimed at enhancing aviation safety worldwide is the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program (USOAP), which plays a pivotal role in promoting a robust safety culture among the ICAO member states, and ensuring the highest levels of safety in international civil aviation.

Multifaceted primary objectives:

  • It provides the ability for ICAO to assess the oversight of safety by each member state, by examining various aspects such as legislation, regulations, organisational structure, personnel qualifications and operational practices
  • Through comprehensive audits and continuous monitoring, USOAP identifies safety deficiencies and areas of non-compliance with international standards, and recommended practices (SARPs) established by ICAO
  • USOAP provides technical assistance, guidance and training to help states address identified deficiencies and strengthen their safety oversight capabilities. This includes support in developing and implementing corrective action plans
  • USOAP contributes to the overall improvement of aviation safety worldwide, by promoting adherence to international standards and best practices. It fosters cooperation and collaboration among states, regional organisations and industry stakeholders, to achieve common safety objectives.

Key components of the oversight programme:

ICAO conducts comprehensive standardised audits of its member states’ aviation safety oversight systems. These audits, based on a Continuous Monitoring Approach (CMA), cover eight Critical Elements (CE) of safety oversight, and involve on-site visits, document reviews and interviews with relevant authorities.

What are the 8 Critical Elements?

  1. Primary Aviation Legislation
  2. Specific Operating Regulations
  3. State Civil Aviation System and Safety Oversight Functions
  4. Technical Personnel Qualifications and Training
  5. Technical Guidance, Tools, and the Provision of Safety-Critical Information
  6. Licensing, Certification, Authorization, and Approval Obligations
  7. Surveillance Obligations
  8. Resolution of Safety Concerns.

What are the Standard Protocol questions and how are they applied?

Standard Protocol Questions (PQ) are used in the USOAP audits. The protocol questions are grouped into eight audit areas, each corresponding to a critical element of safety oversight.


  1. Primary Aviation Legislation and Civil Aviation Regulations (LEG)
  2. Civil Aviation Organisation (ORG)
  3. Personnel Licensing and Training (PEL)
  4. Aircraft Operations (OPS)
  5. Airworthiness of Aircraft (AIR)
  6. Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation (AIG)
  7. Air Navigation Services (ANS)
  8. Aerodromes and Ground Aids (AGA)
  • Following the audit, ICAO provide states with detailed audit reports, outlining findings, observations and recommendations for improvement. States are expected to develop and implement corrective action plans, to address identified deficiencies, with ICAO monitoring their progress through regular follow-up activities
  • A proactive risk-based approach enables ICAO to prioritise its resources, and interventions where they are most needed to mitigate risks and enhance safety
  • ICAO offers technical assistance and building programs, to support the implementation of corrective actions and strengthen safety oversight capabilities.

A Significant Safety Concern (SSC), identified during an audit, does not necessarily indicate a particular safety deficiency in air navigation service providers, airlines (air operators), aircraft or aerodromes (airport) but rather indicates that the State is not providing sufficient safety oversight, to ensure the effective implementation of applicable ICAO Standards.

Contributing to enhancement of aviation safety worldwide:

  • Through regular audits and follow-up activities, USOAP has helped states identify and rectify safety deficiencies, leading to improved compliance with international standards and recommended practices

  • It fosters a culture of continuous improvement and accountability within Civil Aviation Authorities, encouraging proactive measures, to enhance safety oversight and mitigate risks
  • It promotes collaboration and information sharing among states, regional organisations and industry stakeholders, facilitating collective efforts to address common safety challenges
  • By promoting transparency, accountability and adherence to global safety standards, USOAP contributes to enhancing public confidence in the safety of International Civil Aviation.

In conclusion, USOAP plays a pivotal role in helping states strengthen their safety oversight capabilities to ensure the highest levels of safety in International Civil Aviation.

With a primary focus on global Aviation Safety L&A Risk Management Systems developed the eSCHED-S Airline Assessment program. Objective outcomes and accurate information provide eSCHED-S with a tailored outlook on the safety oversight of each country. ICAO USOAP is just one of the eighteen areas considered during the eSCHED-S airline assessment process.

eSCHED-S is a comprehensive, simple-to-use, Scheduled Airline Assessment Management System, with alerts for expiring currencies. This software program provides Clients with direct online access to a list of assessed commercial airlines.

Through a systematic and comprehensive review system, the eSCHED-S program provides three “Tier Levels” of assessed airlines – Recommended, Alternate and Not Recommended allowing Clients to make an informed decision.

Litson & Associates (L&A) is founded on the principle that the security and well-being of every passenger, crew member and aviation professional is paramount. L&A continues to build a reputation as a trusted partner in the Aviation Industry, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to all aspects of their operations, with an ongoing, unwavering commitment to Aviation Safety.