ALTA aims to work with FAA on improving safety in Latin America

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Latin American and Caribbean airline association ALTA has launched an effort with the US FAA to try to improve the region's safety record, which declined further this week following the crash of an Aires Boeing 737-700 in Colombia.

ALTA executive director Alex de Gunten says the association's target is for Latin American and Caribbean carriers to match by 2014 the safety record of North American carriers. He says ALTA is particularly focusing on unstabilised approaches and runway excursions, as these are the causes of "most of the region's crashes".

"We have a number of programmes that we are working on with the FAA and with ICAO to see how we can improve that," de Gunten says.

He says ALTA on 16 August met with the FAA to further discuss "safety in the region [and] how we can work closely together overall". He adds ALTA aims "to keep working [with the FAA] to see what we can keep doing on the safety side. With the Aires accident it is even more timely".

The meeting with the FAA, which included de Gunten and ALTA president and Avianca-TACA chairman Roberto Kriete, had already been scheduled long before the Aires crash. The crash occurred at about 01:50 local time on 16 August as an Aires 737-700 attempted to land on the Colombian island of San Andres in the Caribbean during what seems to be a lightning strike. One fatality and over 100 injuries were reported as the aircraft broke up after completing the domestic flight from Bogota.

de Gunten says Aires is not currently a member of ALTA because the carrier has not yet completed an IATA operational safety audit (IOSA). ALTA adopted IOSA as a requirement for all existing members and new members effective 1 January 2010. de Gunten says four of ALTA's then 31 members were dropped at the beginning of this year for not meeting its IOSA requirement - Aires, Ecuador's Icaro, Costa Rica's Nature Air, and Chile's Sky Airline.

IATA has required IOSA certification to maintain membership since 31 December 2008. de Gunten says ALTA two to three years ago decided it should also make IOSA a requirement and gave its members until 31 December 2009 to complete the audit process.

de Gunten says ALTA now has a programme which includes financial and technical assistance to help former members and potential new members pursue IOSA certification. He says Icaro, Sky and Nature Air are now part of this programme and are working towards IOSA certification, which he expects will allow them to re-join ALTA in one to two years.

de Gunten says Dutch Antilles carrier Insel Air, which has been seeking to join ALTA, is also now participating in this programme. But he says so far Aires has not opted to be part of this programme, which includes assigning an IOSA-certified ALTA member to mentor each participant on "the do's and dont's" of the IOSA certification process.

"If they ask for help we will give it to them," de Gunten says of Aires. "But they haven't asked. We are just in conversations. We offered and we are in conversations with them but they haven't made their decision yet [on whether to pursue IOSA certification]."

While Aires is the only ex-ALTA member currently not pursuing IOSA certification, is not unusual for small carriers who do not codeshare or have interest in codesharing to decide against pursuing IOSA.

The Aires crash is the second hull loss in Latin America this year, following an AeroUnion Airbus A300 freighter which crashed in April in Monterrey, Mexico.

de Gunten says 2009 "was quite good" safety wise as there were no hull losses in the Latin American and Caribbean region. But he says 2008 was "a nightmare" with two hull losses in the region driving a safety record of 2.55 hull losses per one million sectors. This compared to a world average in 2008 of 0.81 hull losses per one million sectors, with Latin America reporting a worse safety record than Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

In the first half of this year, Latin America had 1.98 hull losses per one million sectors. The Aires crash means at best the region will post a figure of about 1.98 hull losses per one million sectors for the full year. ALTA as a result remains well off its goal of matching North America's safety record, which had 0.58 hull losses per one million sectors in 2008 and 0.41 hull losses per one million sectors in 2009.

"So it's still an area of concern for the region," de Gunten says.

In addition to the new initiative with the FAA, de Gunten says ALTA promotes regular meetings of the Latin American Civil Aviation Commission (CLAC) and its safety committee. It also participates in regular ICAO safety meetings for the Americas region.

de Gunten says the next ICAO meeting is scheduled for later this week in Seattle and will involve manufactures, airlines, pilot associations, regulatory authorities and other industry stakeholders. These ICAO-led meeting are for the entire Americas region but de Gunten says the focus of this group is currently on improving safety in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

"A lot of efforts in the region are on Latin America and the Caribbean. Canada and the US have a shorter way to go. We have more catch-up to do," de Gunten says.