Alan George BRUSSELS Brussels hopes that formal talks about the establishment of a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) can be started with non-European Union (EU) states by the end of the year and that the new body can be inaugurated in 2001 or 2002.

Well-placed officials in Brussels say that intra-EU talks on EASA have yet to resolve several key issues, including its location, the languages it will use and whether its decisions should be immediately binding in all EASA member states or should become effective only via local legislation.

Another major area to be resolved is the voting rules which would apply within the new organisation. Smaller countries without major aviation industries favour a "one state, one vote system". The other states - including the UK, France and Germany - want a voting system weighted to reflect their importance.

Although being formed on the initiative of the EU, EASA will not be a European Commission (EC) agency. It will be an international body based on a treaty to be signed by EU and non-EU states.

EASA is likely to supersede the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). This 27-member club of national civil aviation authorities, based in Amsterdam, issues a wide range of aviation directives but these are not legally binding on JAA member states. EASA directives will be mandatory.

EU transport ministers gave the EC a mandate to negotiate the EASA convention last June and an initial draft, which did not seek to resolve the main disagreements, was sent in February to a committee of member states' representatives created to monitor the drafting process. This committee held a first formal meeting to discuss the document on 20 April. It is understood that the draft was well received.

The industry is also generally positive about EASA. The European Association of Aerospace Industries (AECMA) is in the process of assessing the draft, says director of policy David Ashworth. Although a detailed response has yet to be formulated, the document is "a positive attempt by the EC to produce something workable in a very complicated area". There is concern about unresolved issues surrounding the new agency.

"We feel that we should move as quickly as possible towards a strong EASA and we'd be concerned if there was an ill-defined and lengthy period of transition," he adds.

Source: Airline Business