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  • Painted Black: a study of the EU unsafe airlines ban

Painted Black: a study of the EU unsafe airlines ban


Click here to see a full list of airlines banned within the EU from the European Commission Directorate General for Energy and Transport website.

Just over 90 airlines have been named, shamed and banned (as of August 2006) – until their safety improves – from EU skies, while pressure grows for an international blacklist 

As soon as the night time noise restrictions lifted, an ageing McDonnell Douglas DC-8-62 freighter taxied out of a Brussels airport hangar into the dawn calm of a cold March morning to start an ignominious return home.

Accidents graph W445
© Flight International

Belgian civil aviation authority officials must have cheerfully saluted the departure of Silverback Cargo Freighters from the heartland of Europe back to its Rwandan home. A day later and the African aircraft, which had been grounded since August, would have been permanently “residing” at the Zaventem airport, banned from flying under blacklist rules and creating even greater problems in its stationary wake.

“The supervising authority and the airline worked together to ensure that the aircraft was brought up to standard as a pre-condition for flight... Any further delay would have caused series issues about its ability to travel through European airspace,” confirms a Belgian CAA official.

Belgium’s transport ministry published the country’s first blacklist of air transport companies last August, following examples set by Switzerland and the UK, as the public outcry at the non-existent airline safety disclosure by European aviation authorities grew to a deafening pitch.

Describing the circumstances surrounding Silverback’s inclusion on the Belgian blacklist after aviation safety inspectors detected a fuel leak problem, a CAA official said: “In economic terms, being put on a blacklist is tantamount to having an air disaster. With one accident every week [involving other carriers] during August, that triggered an extreme sensitivity – and with the current political emphasis, it is a case of guilty until proven innocent.”

Silverback evidently failed to restore Belgian faith in its safety and last week was banned, along with 91 other airlines, most of them based in Africa, from landing at European airports for failing to meet international safety standards.

European transport commissioner Jacques Barrot says the EU, based on information from the bloc’s 25 member states, is barring 50 carriers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 14 from Sierra Leone and seven from Swaziland, three states judged to have an “inadequate system for regulatory oversight” and therefore deserving of a blanket ban on all airlines operating from there (full list follows this article).

Pressure to create a binding EU blacklist began to mount after the Flash Airlines Boeing 737-300 crash at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt in January 2004, which killed 134 French holidaymakers. They had boarded unaware that the Egyptian aircraft had failed a Swiss safety test two years earlier and equally oblivious that it remained banned from Swiss airspace on technical grounds. Calls for action increased when it was suspected in May 2005 that Turkish carrier Onur Air, banned from Dutch airspace, was flying Dutch tourists to and from Belgian airports simply by bussing them over the border.

Passengers enquiring about which airlines were banned by the 25 member states met with a particularly galling example of bureaucratic stonewalling. While not classified as officially secret, the information shared between the 41 member states of the European Civil Aviation Conference, which oversees the Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) testing regime, was unobtainable by European citizens. Passengers and even tour operators could only find out the details if governments decided to reveal the information. The accepted wisdom was that the protocol was for the countries that imposed the actions not to discuss them.

Under cover

Switzerland, with its stern cultural fixation with business confidentiality, had banned 23 aircraft from flying through its airspace, although the names, and even the number of companies, remained classified.

While concern had been expressed that too much disclosure would discourage airlines from co-operating in future safety programmes, the high number of deaths in recent years arguably caused through an absence of transparency created a momentum that defeated any academic debate over effective collaboration between regulator and regulated.

The independent publication of blacklists by several European states last year accelerated the speed of change. It led to EC regulators drawing up in May an emergency procedure for dealing with safety concerns about particular airlines – the foundation for the first EU airline blacklist.

Now that it is published, EU states can continue to act at national level in exceptional cases, particularly in emergencies or in response to a safety issue that directly affects it. More importantly, the EC can impose a ban independently on the advice of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), whose role will from next January be extended to include administering the SAFA database under which aircraft inspections can result in bans.

EASA performance here will be heavily scrutinised as the EC pledges that the EU blacklist will be updated “as often as is necessary” and at least at three-monthly intervals, while guaranteeing that every decision to ban an airline will be subject to careful assessment even if done “very quickly in urgent cases”.

This will to promote the transparency of the safety-testing regime also became apparent at the International Civil Aviation Organisation annual conference, held days before the publication of the EU airline blacklist. There it was announced that aviation safety oversight audit results for individual states would be made available to the public within two years.

What began as a “Mexican stand-off”, with six African states plus Panama and Cuba insisting that assessment by ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) should be kept secret from the public for fear of bad PR, turned into a “Mexican wave” of approval. By the conference’s end on 22 March, 70 states out of the 124 represented present signalled they would sign up for disclosure.

The support was, however, followed by an appeal for resources to assist affected states to correct any shortcomings in safety oversight discovered during the audit. The World Bank and the EC countered that support would only be available to states who signed up to the disclosure agreement.

Heated debate

QUESTION TIME

How the European aviation blacklist will work

Is the blacklist simply a compilation of existing national lists?

The first list is based on all the bans already in force in the 25 EU member states, in addition to Norway and Switzerland. The European Commission’s Aviation Safety Committee (ASC) has now verified whether a ban at European level can be justified based on common safety criteria.

What do the common safety criteria cover?

Criteria are based on the results of checks at European airports; the use of poorly maintained, antiquated or obsolete aircraft; the inability of the airlines involved to rectify the identified shortcomings during inspections; and the inability of the authority responsible for overseeing the airline to perform this task. The EC only imposes a complete or partial ban on an airline after a case-by-case analysis following ASC consultation.

How can an airline be added, cleared or taken off the list?

The EC has adopted rules to update the list. If a banned airline believes it has since achieved safety standard compliance, it can contact the EC or a member state, either directly or through its civil aviation authority. The EC will then take a decision based on an ASC assessment.

How often is the list updated?

As often as necessary and at least every three months. Every ban must be the result of analysis and must comply with rights of defence and can be done quickly in urgent cases.

Can member states still take safety measures nationally?

While these measures are taken jointly on the basis of common criteria, there is scope for member states to act at national level in exceptional emergency cases or in response to safety concerns specifically affecting that state.

Can the EC impose a ban independently?

If the EC is informed, in particular by the European Aviation Safety Agency, of a serious safety issue, it can act without waiting for a member state response, following an ASC assessment.

What are airlines’ “rights of defence”?

Airlines can express their case, can submit comments in writing, add new items to their file, and ask to be heard by the EC or to attend a hearing before the ASC. They may be assisted by their own supervising CAA.

Will wet-leasing of aircraft allow banned airlines to continue operating?

Banned airlines can still sell tickets under their name and using their own code. But the flights must be operated by aircraft and staff belonging to airlines that are deemed to be safe. Under existing regulations, it is compulsory to inform passengers which airline will operate the flight.

Early detractors of the first EU airline blacklist questioned whether European legislators were in the business of managing a “cut and paste” aggregation of existing banned operators. But the finer detail contained within the EU blacklist suggests there was a level of heated debate when the Aviation Safety Committee examined each airline on a case-by-case basis.

Differences of opinion did emerge over Hewa Bora, a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) airline. While the UK CAA had banned any Congolese carrier from flying to the UK due to fears that its regulatory oversight was inadequate, Hewa Bora continued to enter EC airspace on its sole European route to Brussels and then on to Paris. A Belgian CAA official insists that, while it had found Hewa Bora “marginally acceptable” in safety terms, the UK CAA, on the basis of Belgium’s own data, moved to ban the operator from Europe – potentially cutting the DRC’s last aviation link to the former colonial power. “The assumption that the EU blacklist was merely a ‘cut and paste’ job is not true,” says the official. “The Hewa Bora bilateral operation was deemed by Belgium to be too valuable in terms of it representing an economic asset that we wanted to preserve. There was pressure to avoid a country that had no first-hand experience of a particular carrier being able to dictate affairs.” Hewa Bora is now permitted to use one specific Lockheed L-1011 for its European operations.

A lack of transparency has not merely been indicative of a misguided deference to protocol by Europe’s civil aviation authorities – each ploughing until now an essentially autonomous furrow – but is also indicative of a real fear by disadvantaged countries of publication destroying either their airlines or their tourist industry.

Commissioner Barrot anticipated the risk of retaliation with the publication of the first blacklist, pledging that the EU would also aid African countries trying to upgrade airline safety standards, echoing pledges made at the ICAO conference. “Our sole aim is to improve aviation safety, which is in everyone’s interests, and in no way to affect a country’s economic or social development. We also propose that countries affected set up technical assistance measures to help them achieve a satisfactory level of aviation safety,” said Barrot.

Tit-for-tat

But the evidence of tit-for-tat reprisals exists. Heavily exposed to the African air travel market, SN Brussels has still to resume its Brussels-Kigali service after the Rwandan authorities grounded one of the Belgian carrier’s Airbus A330-300s in Kigali for three days in February and requested documents detailing the aircraft’s complete maintenance history.

Rwanda released the Belgian aircraft following direct intervention by Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who accused the African nation of impounding the aircraft in reaction to Belgium’s decision to bar Rwandan carrier Silverback.

A source close to the airline says: “You would struggle to find an airline more exposed than SN Brussels... Anything that is said is subject to over-reaction and the fact that SN is being mistakenly identified as as a state-owned airline.”

SN Brussels has signalled its commitment to further investment in the African market by planning to take a majority shareholding in a new national carrier for Cameroon that is being privatised with the help of the World Bank. Cameroon has had its own recent aviation safety issues. France imposed a two-month ban in September after security concerns were raised on the Cameroon Airlines’ Douala to Paris Charles de Gaulle operations.

Virgin Nigeria – a joint venture between Virgin Atlantic and Nigerian investors – launched services three months ago with a mix of domestic, regional and long-haul routes from its Lagos base. In February, Virgin Nigeria and the Nigerian College of Air Training agreed to co-operate on training pilots and mechanics, with Virgin committing to employ successful graduates.

Virgin Nigeria director of flight operations Jason Holt believes the improvement of the country’s aviation infrastructure is not simply a question of cash, more a question of developing the “absorptive capacity” of the state in terms of the regulatory and technological environment. “There is an acceptance that change is on its way, but it is a slow process,” he admits.

Another aspirant in the establishment of a new Cameroon national carrier, David Granville, chief executive of Kenyan Airways, sums up the attitude of many of the high-quality African airlines: “We’re African airlines and as such our name can be more easily tarnished because of someone one who has significantly lower standards than ours.”

AIMEE TURNER / LONDON

EU Airlines Blacklist - table updated 4 August 2006

Air carrier  ICAO  Country

Air Koryo

KOR

Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Air Service Comores

-

Comoros

Ariana Afghan Airlines*

AFG

Afghanistan

BGBAir

POI

Kazakhstan

Blue Wing Airlines

BWI

Surinam

GST Aero Air Company

BMK

Kazakhstan

Phoenix Aviation

PHG

Kyrgyzstan

Phuket Airlines

VAP

Thailand

Reem Air

REK

Kyrgyzstan

lverback Cargo Freighters

VRB

Rwanda

Sky Gate International Aviation

SGD

Kyrgyzstan

Star Jet

SJB

Kyrgyzstan

Africa One

CFR

Democratic Republic of Congo

African Buness And Transportations

ABB

Democratic Republic of Congo

African Company Airlines

FPY

Democratic Republic of Congo

Aigle Aviation

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Air Boyoma

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Air Charter Services (Acs)

CHR

Democratic Republic of Congo

Air Kasai

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Air Navette

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Air Plan International

APV

Democratic Republic of Congo

Air Transport Service

ATS

Democratic Republic of Congo

Air Tropiques Sprl

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Ato

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Blue Airlines

BUL

Democratic Republic of Congo

Buness Aviation Sprl

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Butembo Airlines

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

CAA - Compagnie Africaine D'aviation

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Cargo Bull Aviation

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Central Air Express

CAX

Democratic Republic of Congo

Cetraca Aviation Service

CER

Democratic Republic of Congo

Chc Stelavia

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Comair

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Compagnie Africaine D'aviation

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Congo Air

CAK

Democratic Republic of Congo

C0-Za Airways

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Dahla Airlines

DHA

Democratic Republic of Congo

Das Airlines

RKC

Democratic Republic of Congo

Doren Aircargo

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Enterprise World Airways

EWS

Democratic Republic of Congo

Espace Aviation Services

EPC

Democratic Republic of Congo

Filair

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Free Airlines

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Funtshi Aviation Service

FUN

Democratic Republic of Congo

Galaxy

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Gr Aviation

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Global Airways

BSP

Democratic Republic of Congo

Goma Express

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Great Lake Buness Company

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Itab - Buness

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Jetair

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Kinshasa Airways Sprl

KNS

Democratic Republic of Congo

Kivu Air

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Lac - Lignes Aériennes Congolaises

LCG

Democratic Republic of Congo

Malu Aviation

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Malila Airlift

MLC

Democratic Republic of Congo

Mango Mat

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Okapi Airways

OKP

Democratic Republic of Congo

Rwabika

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Safari Logistics

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Scibe Airlift

SBZ

Democratic Republic of Congo

Services Air

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Shabair

SHB

Democratic Republic of Congo

Tembo Air Services

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Thom's Airways

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Tmk Air Commuter

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Tracep

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Trans Air Cargo Services

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Transports Aeriennes Congolais (TRACO)

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Trans Service Airlift

TSR

Democratic Republic of Congo

Uhuru Airlines

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Virunga Air Charter

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Waltair Aviation

-

Democratic Republic of Congo

Wimbi Diri Airways

WDA

Democratic Republic of Congo

Zaire Aero Service

ZAI

Democratic Republic of Congo

Air Bas

RBS

Equatorial Guinea

Air Consul Sa

RCS

Equatorial Guinea

Air Maken

AKE

Equatorial Guinea

Air Services Guinea Ecuatorial

SVG

Equatorial Guinea

Aviage

VGG

Equatorial Guinea

Avirex Guinee Equatoriale

AXG

Equatorial Guinea

Cargo Plus Aviation

CGP

Equatorial Guinea

Cess

CSS

Equatorial Guinea

Cet Aviation

CVN

Equatorial Guinea

COAGE - Compagnie Aeree De Guinee Equatorial

COG

Equatorial Guinea

Compania Aerea Lineas Ecuatoguineanas De Aviacion Sa (LEASA)

LAS

Equatorial Guinea

Ducor World Airlines

DWA

Equatorial Guinea

Ecuato Guineana De Aviacion

ECV

Equatorial Guinea

Ecuatorial Express Airlines

EEB

Equatorial Guinea

Ecuatorial Cargo

EQC

Equatorial Guinea

Equatair

EQR

Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Airlines Sa

EQT

Equatorial Guinea

Euroguineana De Aviacion

EUG

Equatorial Guinea

Federal Air Ge Airlines

FGE

Equatorial Guinea

GEASA - Airlines SA

GEA

Equatorial Guinea

GETRA - Guinea Ecuatorial de Transportes Aereos

GET

Equatorial Guinea

GUINEA CARGO

GNC

Equatorial Guinea

Jetline

JLE

Equatorial Guinea

Kng Transavia Cargo

VCG

Equatorial Guinea

Litoral Airlines Compania (Colair)

CLO

Equatorial Guinea

Lotus International Air

LUS

Equatorial Guinea

Nagesa Compania Aerea

NGS

Equatorial Guinea

Predencia De La Republica De Guinea Ecuatorial

ONM

Equatorial Guinea

Prompt Air Ge Sa

POM

Equatorial Guinea

Skimaster Guinea Ecuatorial

KIM

Equatorial Guinea

Skymasters

SYM

Equatorial Guinea

Southern Gateway

SGE

Equatorial Guinea

Space Cargo

SGO

Equatorial Guinea

Trans Africa Airways Gesa

TFR

Equatorial Guinea

Unifly

UFL

Equatorial Guinea

Utage - Union De Transport Aereo De Guinea Ecuatorial

UTG

Equatorial Guinea

Victoria Air

VIT

Equatorial Guinea v

Air Cargo Plus

ACH

Liberia

Air Cess (Liberia)

ACS

Liberia

Air Liberia

ALI

Liberia

Atlantic Aviation Services

AAN

Liberia

Bridge Airlines

BGE

Liberia

Excel Air Services

EXI

Liberia

International Air Services

IAX

Liberia

Jet Cargo-Liberia

JCL

Liberia

Liberia Airways

LBA

Liberia

Liberian World Airlines

LWA

Liberia

Lonestar Airways

LOA

Liberia

Midair

MLR

Liberia

Occidental Airlines

OCC

Liberia

Occidental Airlines (Liberia)

OCT

Liberia

Santa Cruise Imperial Airlines

SNZ

Liberia

Satgur Air Transport Corp

TGR

Liberia

Simon Air

SIQ

Liberia

Sosoliso Airlines

SSA

Liberia

Trans-African Airways

TSF

Liberia

Transway Air Services

TAW

Liberia

United Africa Airline (Liberia)

UFR

Liberia

Weasua Air Transport Co

WTC

Liberia

Aerolift Co

LFT

Sierra Leone

Afrik Air Links

AFK

Sierra Leone

Air Leone

RLL

Sierra Leone

Air Rum

RUM

Sierra Leone

Air Salone

RNE

Sierra Leone

Air Sultan

SSL

Sierra Leone

Air Universal

UVS

Sierra Leone

Bellview Airlines

BVU

Sierra Leone

Central Airways

CNY

Sierra Leone

Destiny Air Services

DTY

Sierra Leone

First Line Air

FIR

Sierra Leone

Heavylift Cargo

-

Sierra Leone

Inter Tropic Airlines

NTT

Sierra Leone

Mountain Air Company

MTC

Sierra Leone

Orange Air Services

ORD

Sierra Leone

Orange Air erra Leone

ORJ

Sierra Leone

Pan African Air Services

PFN

Sierra Leone

Paramount Airlines

PRR

Sierra Leone

Seven Four Eight Air Services

SVT

Sierra Leone

Sierra National Airlines

SLA

Sierra Leone

Sky Aviation

SSY

Sierra Leone

Star Air

SIM

Sierra Leone

Teebah Airways

-

Sierra Leone

Transport Africa

TLF

Sierra Leone

Trans Atlantic Airlines

TLL

Sierra Leone

West Coast Airways

WCA

Sierra Leone

Aero Africa

RFC

Swaziland

African International Airways

-

Swaziland

Airlink Swaziland

SZL

Swaziland

Air Swazi Cargo

CWS

Swaziland

East Western Airways

-

Swaziland

Galaxy Avion

-

Swaziland

Interflight

JMV

Swaziland

Jet Africa Swaziland

OSW

 

Northeast Airlines

NEY

Swaziland

Ocean Air

JFZ

Swaziland

Royal Swazi National Airways

RSN

Swaziland

Scan Air Charter

-

Swaziland

Skygate International

SGJ

Swaziland

Swazi Air Charter

HWK

Swaziland

Swazi Express Airways

SWX

Swaziland

Volga Atlantic Airlines

VAA

Swaziland

* Applies to all aircraft operated by the air carrier except one A310 - F-GYYY

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