For a long time it has been true to say that the global average airline accident rate is worsened dramatically by a relatively small sector of the industry that has lots of accidents while carriers from the mature economies of the world have very few.

The question has always been what to do about it. The countries in which airlines have a relatively high accident rate are sovereign states, and they alone are responsible for applying safety oversight via their national aviation authority (NAA) according to standards agreed at the International Civil Aviation Organisation. But what if they don't operate an effective NAA? In political terms, this becomes a diplomatic issue, but diplomacy seems inadequate when the lives of airline passengers are at stake.

The US Federal Aviation Adminstration has, for nearly 20 years, operated a system of sanctions against the airlines of countries that do not apply ICAO oversight standards. It consists of assessing the NAA's resources and practices and, if they fall short, airlines from that country have their rights to operate to the USA restricted or removed.

For a decade Europe has operated a system of ramp checks on foreign aircraft, called the Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA). It's rather like treating the symptom compared with the FAA's method of trying to deal with the disease, but nevertheless it has the effect of putting indirect pressure on states to conform. Or it would do if the checks were sufficiently frequent as well as sufficiently thorough so that the states in which the errant aircraft are registered actually notice the action that is being taken. European states can notify the NAAs in the responsible countries of an aircraft or crew's non-compliance and request that they rectify the situation. Or they can ground individual aircraft that fail to meet airworthiness standards or do not carry the official paperwork that proves they have the required licences, approvals and insurance. Regular non-compliance can put an airline or an entire state on Europe's aviation blacklist.

So the USA and Europe are doing their bit to apply pressure where it is needed. The only trouble is the problem of a two-standard world quite evidently still exists. Looking at the SAFA figures, the European Commission has noted that some European states take it seriously, but most do not. Their total of inspections is pathetic. If SAFA is to work, it has to be applied properly or it can continue to be ignored.

Source: Flight International