Bulgaria is to be initially excluded from joining the internal aviation market during its European Union accession next month, after failing to sufficiently improve shortcomings identified in the oversight capabilities of its civil aviation administration.
The European Commission (EC) had already warned Bulgaria, most recently in a progress report in September, that it could restrict the country’s access to the EU internal aviation market if steps were not take to address failings in a number of safety fields.
It says today that, following a recent inspection performed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), it considers there is a “considerable risk” Bulgaria will not be able to ensure full compliance with EU rules on aviation safety. It has consequently invoked a safeguard clause against Bulgaria on the matter.
“The deficiencies that have been identified by EASA concern important shortcomings in the administrative capacity of the Bulgarian CAA in the field of safety oversight in general, and for the certification of airworthiness and maintenance of aircraft. The number of CAA staff is insufficient and their level of training is generally inadequate to perform their duties at the required level,” the EC says.
Bulgaria will remain excluded from full integration in the internal aviation market until a further EASA inspection judges the safety situation in Bulgaria to be satisfactory.
In practice this means airworthiness and maintenance certification issued by the Bulgarian CAA will not be automatically recognised by EU member states, and Bulgarian carriers will not be granted unrestricted access on EU routes. Bulgarian carriers will, however, still be able to serve EU countries, as they currently do, as a third-country operator.
While the EC says it is clear the situation identified by the EASA report raises concerns about the safety of operations, no Bulgarian carriers have been put on the EU’s aviation ‘blacklist’.
But it adds: “We are urgently assessing the situation of each Bulgarian carrier and we will draw our conclusion which will be forwarded to the EU Air Safety Committee in February.”
EC transport chief Jacques Barrot says: “It is essential for us to ensure that every aviation authority fulfils its safety oversight duties and that every airline operating freely in the European market is capable of doing so in full respect of our stringent safety laws. As things stand, we are not satisfied that Bulgaria meets the required standard.
“I have spoken to the Bulgarian minister of transport and he has assured me that efforts are being made to improve the situation. Our experts will keep Bulgaria's compliance with European standards under review, but only once they are satisfied will I recommend lifting the safeguard.”