ALL FOOLS' DAY (1 APRIL) should have been the date by which all the nations of Europe were finally working to a single set of rules for the operation of airliners - JAR-OPS. It wasn't. Part of the reason is that some nations are just not very advanced in implementing JAR-OPS. A more worrying part, however, is that the European Union (EU) has decided that JAR-OPS cannot be made legally binding on its 15 member countries because they have not yet been translated into all the 11 languages that those nations use.

The trouble is that the European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), under whose aegis the JAR-OPS has been promulgated, has no legal status. By the agreement of its 27 members, it is a rule-making body - but it is not a law-making body. For its rules to have the force of law in those 27 member countries, therefore, they must be adopted as law by each country.

All the JAA members have signed up in principle to the concept of enacting all JAA rules as national law, but the EU (which is not in its own right a member of the JAA) has now intervened in the process by suggesting that its own member countries should not legally adopt the JAR-OPS until they are adopted as part of EU law. The rub in that is that they cannot under EU regulations be adopted as EU law until they are available in all the working languages of the EU.

Some EU countries have already adopted most or all of the parts of the JAR-OPS, and it is highly unlikely that any of these countries, already well advanced on their implementation, would consider for even a second suspending what they have already done. The clarification of operating rules within Europe has been urgently needed and eagerly awaited by most, and there has been widespread frustration at the seemingly interminable rewrites which have already delayed JAR-OPS implementation thus far.

Some countries, however, are not well advanced at all in the adoption process: to them, the intervention of EU official Claude Probst must seem heaven-sent. In effect, he has signalled to them that, far from worrying about having failed to meet the deadline, they should be taking positive steps to delay implementation. It is difficult to see the logic behind such a call.

The EU itself has no expertise in airline operations: with the JAA having been accepted as Europe's centre of excellence in the field, there is no reason why the EU should. Thus, the EU can have little or nothing to add to the substance of (or to improve) the JAR-OPS. The EU's intervention, rather, appears to be aimed entirely at coping with its own internal peculiarities, in that aviation convention is at odds with European political correctness.

International aviation regulations have traditionally been written in four languages - English, French, Spanish and Russian - but the EU insists on everything being available in 11 languages before it can become EU law.

That insistence makes it nearly impossible to get complicated regulations agreed in Europe - it is difficult enough to agree subtle nuances in one language, far less 11. If the EU was really serious about ensuring fair play for all its members (apparently the reason behind its 11-language insistence) it would insist that its regulations must be totally unambiguous.

The best way of ensuring that would be to insist that regulations were drafted and legally enacted in just one language. It would be possible - indeed, desirable - that those regulations then be translated for operational convenience into the other working languages of the EU, but that for purposes of legal interpretation, the original language would prevail. In this way, a regulation could be enacted as soon as its original wording had been agreed - to the benefit of countries both inside and outside the EU.

In aviation, English is the nearest thing there is to a universal language (though nobody should be so arrogant or naive as to insist that it is the universal language). It would therefore make sense for the Europeans to agree to draft and enact their rules in that language alone. That might seem to run counter to the spirit of Europeanism, but it would stop the Europeans from appearing as fools.

Source: Flight International