Alan George/BRUSSELS

Strong support for the establishment of the proposed European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) has been expressed by European aviation industry organisations participating in a consultation process organised by the European Commission (EC).

The process also revealed a wide measure of agreement on the form and mission of the new body, which could become operational by 2000.

Responding to a questionnaire sent out by the EC, 14 industry bodies unanimously supported the establishment of the EASA. The majority felt that the new agency should be a European wide organisation rather than an EC agency.

A majority argue that EASA's initial members should consist of at least all full members of the existing Joint Aviation Authorities, with provision for subsequent widening of the membership.

The respondents included the Association of European Airlines, the European Association of Aerospace Industries, the International Airline Passengers Association, the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations and the Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the European Union.

The questionnaire results were discussed at a hearing in Brussels on 11 February, attended by the respondents and observers from the JAA and the European Free Trade Area.

The industry bodies were unanimous that from the outset the EASA's rule making powers should cover the current JAA system, including type certification of products and related approvals. Subsequently the authority could assume responsibility for safety regulation of air traffic management and airports, and for matters such as licensing flight crews.

Most feel that EASA rules should be directly binding upon its members, without the need for further legislative acts by the European Union or national governments. Airline and manufacturing organisations argue that national aviation authorities should be subsumed within the EASA as regional offices of the pan-European safety authority.

Others felt that the authorities should have separate and complementary roles in the issuing of approvals and certificates.

Officials in Brussels say that two key issues will dominate debate in the coming weeks. The first is the precise scope of the EASA's activities, and in particular whether these should embrace air traffic management and airport safety. The second is whether EASA decisions should be directly applicable. A compromise is being discussed, under which technical specifications and decisions affecting individuals would be directly applicable, while more general rules would apply via national legislation.

The industry view on the development of EASA was largely mirrored by a EC Council of Transport ministers meeting on 17 March.

EC officials are optimistic that in June the Council will instruct the EC to start negotiating an EASA Convention based on an already prepared draft. This could be signed by the first half of 1999. Ratification by national governments could take between two and five years. But it is probable that the EASA would start operations on a provisional legal basis shortly after the convention's signature.

Source: Flight International