Europe is joining the USA in pressing less-powerful nations to put aviation safety at the top of their national-budget priorities.

David Learmount/LONDON

THE EUROPEAN UNION decision to join the USA in invoking its own aviation-safety assessment rules will raise the pressure for the less- powerful nations of the world to hoist aviation safety to the top of their meagre national-budget priorities.

The model for the Europeans is the US Federal Aviation Administration's international aviation-safety assessment (IASA) programme . In essence, the scheme is a demand to states, which in the FAA's judgement do not meet International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) safety-oversight standards. In effect, it says: "Improve your airline-safety-oversight or your carriers may not operate into our country."

European safety-assessment preparation comes at a time when there are growing signs of serious political discontent among nations hit by the IASAP. As safety assessment spreads, it raises the question for Europe and the USA as to whether their commitment to raising standards extends to treating the politically powerful in the same manner as the USA has dealt with the countries such as Gambia and Surinam.

Venezuela and Colombia, given conditional safety ratings (IASA Category 2), are locked in intense argument with US transportation secretary Federico Pena. Venezuela has already retaliated in kind, grounding US services on 7 August (Flight International, 21-27 August). There is no dispute, however, about whom will win the argument.

A European Government-agency official recently voiced the unease of many about the politics of the IASAP, saying: "Has anyone asked why Russia is not on the FAA's list of states whose airlines are banned from the USA?"

When the FAA audited Russian commercial-aviation safety in 1994, almost every air-transport infrastructure function was listed as needing improvement. Poor safety-inspector pay and training were just two of the deficiencies highlighted on the oversight side.

The FAA says that the 1994 inspection was an audit carried out at the Russian aviation authorities' request, not under the IASA.

Recently retired FAA safety chief Anthony Broderick has also now drawn attention to the fact that Russia has not been improving its standards enough (Flight International, 21-27 August). Russia, however, still escapes the FAA's IASA list, but is said to be due for audit within the next 12 months.

The IASA list of 59 countries includes 32 awarded category 1 status (meeting ICAO oversight standards). Twelve nations are graded Category 2 (conditional entry, with additional FAA surveillance): Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatamala, Jamaica, Kuwait, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. Banned from the USA (Category 3) are airlines from Belize, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Haiti, Honduras, Kiribati, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Surinam, Swaziland, Uruguay, Zaire and Zimbabwe. Among those nations only Haiti and Surinam are listed by the FAA as having "current operators" to the USA. Now, however, the European Union (EU) is to wield its own stick, the Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) programme, a political weapon with an almost equal power to exert commercial pain - and the 14-nation EU is not alone. The 19 non-EU nations of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) intend to participate also.

The SAFA programme, is expected to be backed, by EU law by the end of 1996 but meanwhile, ECAC member states have been urged to implement national regulations based on draft SAFA rules.

The UK, for example, has embraced the SAFA with gusto, having in June radically altered foreign-airline rights to fifth-freedom operation outside established, Government-approved, agreements. The effect of this is to close the door on UK tour-operators' ability to charter non-EU-operated aircraft for entire seasons, or for airlines to wet-lease them for long periods. Ten return flights, is the limit. German transport minister Matthias Wissman describes his country's implementation of another SAFA policy: more ramp spot-checks are being carried out, he says, "-especially on aircraft of charter carriers from third countries", with bigger fines or grounding as available sanctions.

The cornerstone of the SAFA system is an ECAC-wide agreement, networking with the FAA, to exchange information on incidents and intelligence, which might identify carriers or countries which need additional surveillance.

Meanwhile ICAO, the forum, which agrees and sets international aviation-safety standards, launched its own safety-oversight programme in 1995. It could be argued that the organisation is the only appropriate agency to police standards set up in its name.

ICAO safety expert Eric MacBurnie says that assessments of 18 states have been carried out so far, but he does not define the results.

Unofficially, ICAO had earlier admitted that publicising unfavourable reports is one of the most effective sanctions. History shows, however, that it is not in ICAO's culture to release such information, because its whole operation depends upon uncoerced international co-operation.

The FAA and the European authorities, however, justify their actions in the name of their own citizens' right to safety on any and all carriers, which operate into their airports. They say that ICAO's safety-oversight scheme is embryonic and that it lacks teeth. They are not prepared to wait.

Source: Flight International