In 2009, all foreign airlines operating into the European Union will have to have passed a new European Aviation Safety Agency safety audit, according to EASA's executive director Patrick Goudou.

If they fail the audit, by virtue of non-compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation standards, they will be banned from operating to the European Union, Goudou explains.

This measure, the authority for which was conferred on EASA early this month by the European Parliament and the Commission, will be implemented in 2009.

Goudou describes the measure as "a very important step forward", and says it does not replace the existing EU "blacklist", nor does it replace the safety assessment of foreign aircraft (SAFA) programme, but complements them both.

Both the blacklist and the SAFA were essentially reactive programmes which recognised bad practice and then acted to correct it or to exclude the non-compliant aircraft, airlines, or in some cases all aircraft from non-compliant states but the new system, explains Goudou, requires an a priori approval of individual airlines.

He agrees that the system has parallels with the US Federal Aviation Administration's international aviation safety assessment programme, in which the FAA grades states according to the efficacy of their national aviation authority's (NAA) conduct in its safety oversight role.

The FAA effectively grades states as either having passed or failed the audit. A failure entails additional checks on existing flights to America and severe restrictions on new services from the foreign state.

The difference with the EASA programme is that the agency is looking directly at individual airlines, and the sanction for safety standards failure is a ban on that airline's operations to Europe.

Means of compliance 

 EASA's new powers to approve or ban foreign carriers does not necessarily require individual airline audits. Executive director Patrick Goudou explains there are other ways: "We rely on all the existing audits, like the ICAO universal safety oversight audit programme [USOAP], on information from individual inspections of aircraft carried out under SAFA, and when we are not sure of the safety standards of the airline, we go to the airline and inspect it on the spot."

EASA's deputy director rulemaking Eric Sivel says the agency has many sources of information about airlines. In the case of states such as Canada and the USA, which have good USOAP results and with which EASA works closely, the two parties may set up a bilateral agreement under which each accepts the other's airline operators' certificates. On the other hand, Sivel says: "Our intent is not to penalise airlines for the faults of the state." He says that if an airline is a good operator and passes the EASA audit, it can fly to Europe despite the fact that its national aviation authority may not be up to standard as an oversight agency.