Asian states must improve their airline safety oversight standards, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has urged, following a spate of fatal accidents in Asia.

"The Asia-Pacific region is increasingly, though regrettably, becoming owner of a series of catastrophic aircraft accidents," notes ICAO regional representative Lalit Shah. Specific regional initiatives designed to improve safety were proposed four years ago and their implementation is now "long overdue", he adds.

Asian carriers suffered four out of the six fatal scheduled-airline crashes in 1997, accounting for more than 600 of the 762 passengers and crew killed, says ICAO. Less than six weeks after the crash of a Singapore SilkAir Boeing 737-300, Asia suffered its first fatality of 1998 with the loss on 2 February of a Cebu Pacific Air Boeing DC-9 with 104 people aboard. "ICAO is extremely concerned-states really need to be a bit more worried about this," urges Lalit.

Of the three Co-operative Operational Safety and Continuing Airworthiness Programmes (COSCAP) originally proposed for the region by ICAO, only one is approaching readiness. The initiatives are intended to improve and harmonise air laws, regulations and licensing, provide ad hoc technical help, train inspectors and evaluate flight-safety organisations.

The first South Asia COSCAP office is scheduled to open in Kathmandu, Nepal, within six weeks, staffed by three operations and airworthiness inspectors.

Some $300,000 in initial funding for the project has come from Airbus Industrie, Transport Canada and the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Similar COSCAP initiatives for South-East Asia and the South Pacific have yet to get off the ground, perpetuating oversight deficiencies, particularly in Indo-China, says Lalit.

A fourth initiative is planned for North-East Asia, covering China, Mongolia, and North and South Korea. The main hurdle is funding, but ICAO estimates that it would require as little as $2 million to run a second Asian COSCAP group over three years.

Meanwhile, in March, the ICAO Council hopes to complete a global plan to make the organisation's voluntary Safety Oversight Programme a mandatory audit from 1999 of all contracting states. Audited authorities would be given a set time to remedy shortcomings, after which assessment results would be disclosed. If adopted by the general assembly in September, the new rules will come into force from 1 January, 1999.

Source: Flight International