The global airline trade body has kicked out six of its members out for failing to meet a year-end deadline to conduct approved safety audits.

The International Air Transport Association has suspended the membership of six airlines, from Latin America, Asia and Russia, after they failed to meet a 31 December 2006 deadline for hiring one of seven accredited firms to conduct IATA operational safety audits (IOSA).

Although the  IOSA programme was launched in 2003, IATA says 117 of its 250 members have still not been audited. But IATA says 111 of these have contracted one of the seven firms licensed by IATA to carry out the audits. The other six were given termination letters from director general Giovanni Bisignani in  the second week of January.

Bisignani says these six are “very small airlines you probably never heard of”. He says one of the carriers is from Latin America and “a couple” are from Asia and Russia.

He says IATA is “concerned” about losing six of its members and about potentially losing more members if others ultimately fail to pass the audit by the end of 2008. But Bisignani says safety is of utmost importance to the association: “Our goal is not to eliminate members but to increase the safety bar.”

He points out that while 2006 was “the safest year ever”, further improvement is possible. IATA members experienced 0.41 hull losses per million flights in 2006, compared with an industry-wide hull loss rate of 0.65. IATA’s target is a 25% reduction in the accident rate by 2008 and Bisignani believes IOSA, the first global airline standard for airline safety management audits, will help achieve this.

IATA says 100 member carriers and 30 non-member carriers have already passed the audit. Another 33 members have been audited but are still waiting for the results.

IATA requires all audits be done by 31 December 2007. The findings must be completed and all remedial actions required by the auditors must be in place by 31 December 2008. Members which do not have the audit done in 2007 or who ultimately fail will be kicked out of the association.

“Some will have problems passing the audit,” Bisignani acknowledges.

But he says the IASA requirement will also prompt many carriers to improve their safety standards which in turn will result in them passing. IATA has set aside $3 million for its “partnership for safety” programme, which is helping members from developing countries improve their safety standards and pass the audit. Half of these funds will be spent in 2007.

“Our job is to help airlines improve their safety,” Bisignani says.