Safety and politics don’t mix

European transport commissioner Antonio Tajani and several French politicians have seen fit to pronounce on aviation safety in the wake of the Yemenia Airbus A310 accident in a way that reflects a distressing degree of nationalistic prejudice.


Without any knowledge of what caused the Yemenia accident, they have clearly pre-judged the carrier as not being up to standard. The French have a word for this: chauvinism.


A little more than month ago an Air France Airbus A330 tragically went missing over the Atlantic; in August 2005 an Air France A340 was completely destroyed in a landing at Toronto Pearson airport; and in 2000 the airline lost a Concorde and everybody on board. What would the European Commission and France think of politicians from other countries who drew conclusions about Air France and the DGAC (French aviation authority) from these accidents, especially if the comments were made public before any facts about the events had been established?


Suddenly Tajani is calling for European air safety standards to be enforced worldwide. The media’s response to his statements has been to report him as calling for a worldwide airline blacklist, an idea that seems to appeal to editors.  But what exactly is a global blacklist? What would its purpose be? And who would organise it, under which law, and on what authority?


The EU does not have the power to enforce its rules or standards outside Europe, and it never will have. The International Civil Aviation Organisation already has the task of policing global standards. Any influence the EU wants to wield can be exercised through ICAO.


Europe already exercises the right to stop airlines that do not meet ICAO standards from entering EU airspace but, having examined Yemenia, it had chosen not to do that. Incidentally, the airlines that the EU bans are on its global blacklist of all foreign carriers that may not use EU airspace: surely that qualifies as a global blacklist? Or do we need another? 


When the Yemenia accident happened, although no facts whatsoever had been established about it, suddenly it was open season for the most unpleasant kind of political posturing. Another thing that the politicians pushed out – and the editors lapped up – was the story that Yemenia had mounted a conspiracy to transfer French and Cormori passengers from the gleaming A330 used on the Paris-Sanaa leg of the journey to a rusty A310 for the fatal Sanaa-Moroni flight. The fact that it is normal practice operate a big aeroplane on a trunk route and a smaller type on a minor route like the one from Yemenia’s hub to the Cormoros Islands was apparent missed by politicians and journalists. 


Of course, where France is concerned, this attitude dates back to the Flash Airlines accident in January 2004. The now-defunct Egyptian charter carrier’s 737-300, packed with French holidaymakers, was lost climbing out of Sharm el-Sheikh. It was discovered that Switzerland had banned Flash, and France itself had had its doubts about the airline but had not banned it. So political and media hell broke loose at the time.


French politicians now seem to feel they must be seen to be doing something, but their actions consist only of inelegant attempts to cover their own backsides. 


They sound almost as bad as Brazilian politicians in the wake of the Gol collision and the TAM Congonhas overrun, who fired off salvoes of blame in all directions to distract attention from the fact that they had underfunded the aviation infrastructure in the country they governed. It was high farce.


And these people are the guardians of our regulatory systems and our safety? Don’t make me laugh.


4 Responses to Safety and politics don’t mix

  1. Flying Donkey 3 July, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    Spot on David! Much remains to be made public about AF 447. To go after the Yemenia event in such disdainful and arrogant terms is lamentable. Perhaps our friends across the Channel doth protest too much? There are many uncomfortable questions yet to be publicly addressed by certain offices in Paris and Toulouse.

  2. James 4 July, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    I think that this was a political situation where saying nothing would have been deemed far worse than saying something that was based on conjecture.

    The wish to export EASA standards appears a little hubristic, however; European carriers have not been without their own maintenance related accidents (The Spanair MD-82 crash in Madrid last year immediately springs to mind).

    One cannot get beyond the fact that as long as humans are inolved in pilotage, maintenance, manufacture and ATM then incidents will occur. A witch hunt to bring “to justice” a carrier that has had one high profile incident is only going to strengthen the Cover Your Rear End attitude within the industry. Is safety our goal or is it blame attribution?

  3. Ibrahim Khalid 5 July, 2009 at 5:10 am #

    Shocked to read such comments from people who advocate safety management and non-punitiveness. I feel the incident brings to limelight the difficulties, dangers and demands facing aircrews when carrying out circling night approaches in mountainous terrain.

  4. Aviaticus 10 July, 2009 at 7:19 am #

    Just politics.. The Aviation world should start to think about who are these nominated experts ? Way too often these politicians think about how to get re-elected rather then taking the crusade for truth. EASA or FAA .. they have more lawyers and lobbyists than we can afford

    I keep the fingers crossed IYE should overcome ..Aviaticus