Icao has salvaged a role as a global aviation safety watchdog after hammering out an agreement at its safety convention. However, critics fear that the International Civil Aviation Organisation will not clamp down on countries which ignore safety standards.

The 145 member states attending Icao's November safety conference in Montreal agreed to strengthen Icao's role and create a new Global Aviation Safety Plan. Doubts persist, however, about Icao's ability to enforce the new deal, set to replace its existing voluntary Safety Oversight Plan after the next Icao general assembly in October 1998.

Delegates agreed to introduce a mandatory scheme and extend its scope from aircraft, operations and personnel into other areas, notably airports and air traffic control. However, there was disappointment that the new areas would remain voluntary.

The agreement received a broad welcome from the US Federal Aviation Administration and the European Commission. Both authorities were frustrated at Icao's lack of progress and third country resentment at their assumption of the role of global safety policemen. 'Instead of us being the bad guys, Icao will take that role,' says one Commission regulator.

The expansion in the Icao agreement is forecast to add US$1.8 million to the safety plan's $1.1 million annual budget, though this does not include the cost of upgrading national authorities.

Critics are slating Icao for failing to introduce an enforcement mechanism at the meeting for states which repeatedly ignore Icao safety standards. Delegates felt governments would be unwilling to support an Icao blacklist of its own members, similar to the category system used by the FAA.

The US and the Commission plan to maintain their own assessment system after the Icao reforms. The FAA's International Aviation Safety Authority, which examines regulators, and the Commission's Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (Safa) will be retained to support the new Icao body. 'Safa is not itself an assessment of third country oversight, just a warning flag,' says a Commission official.

Icao's revisions will have to compete with progress on a long-awaited European Aviation Safety Authority. The proposal for a pan-European safety overseer has been with the Council of Ministers since December 1996. Progress is expected by mid 1998, however, with Easa expected to be a centrepiece of the UK's six-month presidency of the European Union, due to start in January 1998. If the plan is adopted, safety assessment would remain at a national level but the coordinating role would be transferred to Easa.

While there is broad political support for a 'European FAA' there remain a number of stumbling blocks, notably its independence, relationship with airports and ATC, and whether its competence stems from the Commission or a treaty among member states.

The drawback of the current fragmented system has been highlighted by the introduction of joint European operational safety rules, JAR Ops, on 1 April. All countries bar Italy and Belgium intend to introduce the legislation, contravening the wishes of the Commission which wanted to wait until it became Community policy. 'This leads to different regulations in different countries and creates competitive disadvantages for airlines,' says Peter Malanik, general manager technical and operations at the Association of European Airlines.

Doug Cameron

Source: Airline Business