Europe pledges more safety transparency for passengers

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CHRISTINA MACKENZIE / PARIS AND DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON

Commission discusses plan to blacklist airlines that fail to meet international standards

European transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio has pledged to make a "policy proposal" before the summer to ensure that people know which airline they are using when they book a package tour. There is also discussion about the European Commission creating an official safety "whitelist" or "blacklist" of airlines, with the latter looking more likely.

The proposal came last week after French transport minister Gilles de Robien reached an agreement with French tour operators in the wake of the Flash Airlines accident in Egypt on 3 January that killed 133 French tourists (Flight International, 27 January-2 February).

But the EU response has its roots in resolutions made after the 1996 Birgenair Boeing 757 crash off the Dominican Republic coast in which 176 German tourists died. After this Turkish charter airline accident the European Parliament called on the EC to "draw up a blacklist of companies" failing to comply with internationally agreed safety standards "with a view to denying" permission to operate in the EU.

De Palacio's proposal is likely to result in a directive that includes publishing the results of safety checks on non-EU aircraft that operate into EU airports, the Commission says. If one or more EC member states have banned an airline on safety grounds, the Commission could decide to apply this ban EC-wide. Meanwhile, France has proposed a system operated by independent auditors awarding a "label" of approval to airlines that can prove their safety.

The Commission observes, however, that publishing a "whitelist" is legally difficult, explaining: "The absence of quality - a 'blacklist' - is much easier to prove than the presence of quality." The European Civil Aviation Conference safety assessment of foreign aircraft is in place, but where unsatisfactory standards are found, airline names or nationalities are not currently disclosed, but technical statistics are.