The state of Florida runs on aviation. About half of its visitors arrive by air, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Currently, Florida has 129 airports, and 20 of these are commercial service airports—publicly owned airports with at least 2,500 passengers boarding annually.

The FAA classifies the airports at Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, and Tampa as “large hub” airports. That means that each one accounts for at least one percent of passengers boarding in the US! As such, they receive dozens of international flights a day. According to the American Airport Guide, Orlando International alone served 27 countries as of January 2024.

International aviation could not operate without a set of shared expectations for pilots, ATCs, mechanics, and everyone involved in the business of flight. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), operated under the authority of the UN, establishes and maintains these standards.

Although the ICAO has no enforcement power of its own, almost every world nation is a member. The US is a founding member of the ICAO, and the FAA states that their policy is “to conform to [ICAO] Standards and Recommended Practices to the maximum extent practicable.”

Airport Standards in the US

Every public airport with regular commercial flights of over nine seats must be certified by the FAA under Part 139 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. Furthermore, airports that have received federal funding or property must meet additional expectations and requirements.

Of Florida’s 129 airports, 26 are certified under Part 139. The FAA inspects Part 139 airports yearly to verify their certification qualifications. At each airport, inspectors review:

  • Aircraft rescue and firefighting capabilities, including training and drills.
  • Fueling facilities, including mobile fuelers, for safety and training practices.
  • Current administrative practices, including self-reporting forms and the airport’s manual.
  • Night operations, verifying the status of lighting, beacons, pavement markings, and other NAVAIDs (navigational aids).
  • The movement area, including runways, where they verify that pavements, markings, signs, indicators, and other safety features are in good condition. They will also note any possible exposure of jet blasts or other environmental dangers to the public and local wildlife.

These are only a few of the hundreds of FAA regulatory concerns for Part 139 airports.

ICAO Standards and FAA Standards for Airports

The ICAO has also published standards and recommendations for airports—known as “aerodromes” in the technical literature. Nonetheless, ICAO aviation regulations are extensive, and their standards are not followed to the letter everywhere. FAA standards do not match ICAO standards in every particular.

Where ICAO member nations have differing aviation standards, they should be published and made available. The FAA has published a guide to the differences between ICAO and FAA standards, detailing where their requirements diverge.

Here are some key ways in which FAA and ICAO practices come together at US airports, as well as ways in which they differ.

ICAO Phonetic Alphabet

It is not always easy to understand speech over the radio, especially if English is not your first language. That is why the phonetic alphabet was initially developed by NATO and later standardized by the ICAO in order to transmit data between airmen. The alphabet includes specified pronunciation to reduce misunderstandings between speakers of different languages. US pilots and ATCs regularly use it to convey information.

ICAO Airport Identification

The three-letter airport IDs that most people recognize are not ICAO standard. Instead, those codes have been issued by IATA (the International Air Transport Association) for commercial use, including baggage handling and ticketing systems. ICAO maintains a separate ID list for airports, regions, and other locations. Pilots and ATCs worldwide use these ICAO codes, rather than IATA codes, for flight planning and communications.

Each ICAO airport code is four letters long, prefixed by a country code. US airports in the lower 48 states have ICAO codes that begin with the letter K, and most ICAO codes simply add the better-known IATA code. For example, Orlando International (MCO) and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (FLL) have the ICAO codes KMCO and KFLL.

Aerodrome/Airport Design Standards

ICAO’s Annex 14 addresses the design of aerodromes, particularly of runways and NAVAIDs. US regulations match many ICAO standards, but not all of them. For example, US runway lighting and design generally conform to ICAO standards, but smaller airports may have older beacons, fewer markings, and less lighting. Standard US runway marking patterns also differ in certain ways.

Procedures for approaching airports while flying by instruments also differ between FAA and ICAO practices. The FAA standards for IFR approaches (TERPS, or Terminal Instrument Procedures) are also used in certain other countries, including Canada, but Europe and many other nations use PANS-OPS, the ICAO standard. Approaching pilots must know how to calculate a safe approach under the correct standard.

Understanding the Regulations

It is often difficult for anyone in the aviation business, whether they fly aircraft or manage them, to untangle the net of expectations and legal regulations. At Aero Law Center, we would be glad to talk to you about any concerns you may have regarding regulatory compliance and how to manage your aviation needs. Call us at 954-869-8950 to schedule a consultation today.