EUROPE'S DIRECTORS-general of civil aviation (DGCAs) have decided (belatedly or after due deliberation, depending on your point of view) to take a more active interest in the safety of the airlines flying into Europe from elsewhere. In showing that increased interest, they are catching up with the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA, but they may not achieve its results.

The initiative taken by the FAA and later endorsed by ICAO has led to the application of sanctions against unsafe airlines or airlines from unsafe countries. This was a FAA initiative, taken by the US safety regulator on grounds of safety concern. The latest European action, however, did not originate within the European safety regulator (the Joint Aviation Authorities), but with politicians who have passed it on to the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC). Part of that difference stems, naturally, from the limited powers of the JAA, which persuades by co-operation; the FAA rules by legislative right.

The ECAC countries may well be following the FAA into combat, but they do so without the legislative armour which the Americans have. An integral part of every bilateral agreement which the USA signs with another country is a safety clause, under which the USA is entitled to send in inspectors to ensure that the second country is complying with the letter and spirit of ICAO regulations. It seems that no European countries insist on such clauses, or therefore, have an already extant, legally agreed basis for applying the sanctions now wanted by politicians.

To some people in the industry, of course, positive aviation interest from a politician would be a cause for celebration. For others however, the question must be why have the politicians taken an interest in this issue, and why now?

Are they motivated by the fear of their voters being killed by unsafe airlines from non-ECAC countries, or are they motivated by the fear of their airlines being mugged by low cost airlines from non-ECAC countries? Such questions were less important in the US case, where access to the market by foreign airlines, is rigorously controlled by the politicians anyway. The concept of a US tour operator wet-leasing in a Russian-built airliner operated by a Hungarian airline under a flag of convenience is not a worrying one, because it would never happen. In Europe, where some 50% of all passengers travel on charter flights against less than 10% in the USA, it does.

So far, the European initiative is one of data collection only - concentrating purely on finding out how safe (or unsafe) are the airlines which fly into Europe, and how sound are the attitudes and procedures of the countries from which they come. Applying sanctions against miscreants is another subject, for another time - and with good reason.

There is no one body, which can apply the sort of sanction envisaged on behalf of all the European countries involved. ECAC is an association of 33 countries, but which does not have the power of enforcement in or on behalf of any of those countries. The JAA acts as the coordinating body for safety and related issues on behalf of 23 European states: it has the power of granting licences and certificates, but not the power of enforcement. The EU represents 15 European states, on behalf of which it has some powers of enforcement - but even those are limited by powers of national sovereignty, and because bilateral aviation agreements are still between states, however much the EC would like to take over the role of EU member nations.

In short, the European safety initiative is a good idea - especially if it has been taken on the grounds of increasing safety rather than on grounds of hobbling inconvenient competition - but it has very little chance of achieving very much, unless by persuasion. That power is in short supply in Europe.


Source: Flight International