Africa remains primary concern for EU ramp inspectors

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Latest full-year figures from Europe's foreign aircraft safety scheme show that the average number of findings per ramp inspection rose slightly but still stayed below unity.

The figures for the Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft programme detail the results of 11,703 ramp inspections in 2010, 3% more than during the previous year, carried out on 6,200 aircraft.

In a report, the European Commission put the number of findings per inspection at 0.94, up from the prior figure of 0.85, but still the second-lowest level since 1999.

However, the rate reached 1.44 for African operators and 1.53 for those from Latin America and the Caribbean, compared with just 0.75 for aircraft from the European Union.

The inspection process centres on a checklist of 54 different inspection items to assess compliance of the aircraft with International Civil Aviation Organisation standards.

Each finding is classified into one of three groups. Over the course of 2010, inspectors classified 26% of the findings as Category 3, the most serious of the three classifications.

In 120 of the 11,703 cases, inspections resulted in restrictions on aircraft operation, while 12 involved grounding of aircraft, although none led to an immediate operating ban - beyond those imposed by the Commission's blacklist, for which the SAFA programme serves as a foundation.

Despite the programme's emphasis on third-party examinations, just over half of the inspections (51.2%) were carried out on European Union operators.

Of these 5,990 inspections on EU aircraft, just under 20% generated Category 3 findings. But this proportion increased to 48% for African operators and a similar level for Latin American aircraft.

"Although in 2009 the average for African operators showed the greatest improvement, this trend was reversed in 2010, when [findings per inspection] figures show the greatest increase," says the Commission analysis.

It says the number of findings per inspection increased for almost all the regions, with the exception of South America, which, nevertheless, still has an above-average rate.