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Bulgaria bans five freight carriers in bid to avoid EU aviation safety blacklist

Bulgarian authorities have withdrawn permission for five freight carriers to operate to the European Union and a number of other allied states, in a bid to avoid its airlines being included on the European Commission’s ‘blacklist’.

The Bulgarian ministry of transport has taken action against Vega Airlines, Heli Air, Air Sofia, Bright Aviation Services and Scorpion Air.

It says that, as a result of the 21 February decision, the European Commission will not place any Bulgarian carrier – either passenger or cargo – on the blacklist, a revised version of which is due to be issued in a few days’ time.

All five cargo companies facing the restrictions are based in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and possess fleets primarily comprising Soviet-era aircraft.

Vega Airlines, Air Sofia and Bright Aviation Services operate Antonov An-12s. Scorpion Air and Heli Air also use Antonov turboprops as well as helicopters including Mil Mi-8s.

They are being prohibited from operating to the European Union member states as well as to Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Bulgaria joined the European Union at the beginning of this year but regulators have restricted access to the internal European market as a result of concerns about the country’s aviation safety oversight. The transport ministry says that European authorities will continue to monitor Bulgarian control over the aviation system.

While the European Commission has not publicly stated that it was prepared to place a blanket ban on Bulgarian airlines, the Bulgarian situation has been under discussion by the European Aviation Safety Committee on whose advice the blacklist is amended.

European officials have already prompted similar action by Russian authorities against nine carriers, after drawing attention to safety concerns arising from airport ramp inspections of aircraft and indicating that failure to address the matter could lead to a blacklist ban.

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