Ban airlines, don’t smear them

The European Commission has been talking about creating a so-called blacklist of unsafe airlines for
just short of a decade now. It hasn’t managed to produce one yet, but
suddenly transport commissioner Jacques Barrot is planning to come up
with a firm proposal. Good luck to him, he’ll need it.

Frenchman Barrot’s remarks were at least partly in response to the deaths of his countrymen in this week’s MD-82 crash in
Venezuela, but the EU has also been embarrassed by the conflicting
actions taken by member nations in respect of airlines that some banned
and some didn’t. Matters came to a head over the case of Onur Air of Turkey.

On this occasion the individual nations are ahead of the commission.
The only sort of blacklist that works is one that bans the airlines on
it.

What on earth is a traveller supposed to make of a list that
effectively says “we have safety doubts about the airlines on this
list”? The only rational response is not to fly with the airline. And
if you are the airline your only choices are to sort out the problem,
sue, or hassle your own government for some heavy diplomatic action.

But if the Commission is ready for that sort of response then it should bite the bullet and ban airlines, not smear them.

That’s when things get tricky. How do you know an airline is unsafe?
In particular, how do you know an airline based in a far away country
is unsafe? The reality is that the non-European charter carriers that
are actually the focus of the EU’s concerns are almost invariably
revealed as being unsafe only in the wake of a disaster – when
blacklisting them is pretty superfluous. And in any case the fact that
your airline had an accident does not mean you were or are an unsafe
airline.

The troubled birth of EASA really does give the Commission a chance
to tackle the issue properly – but it will take tough-minded thinking
to make it work.

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