Colombian commercial air transport has a poor safety record by average world standards. This has been spotlighted by the US Federal Aviation Administration's International Air Safety Assessment Programme (IASAP), which gave Colombia's civil-aviation authority (Aeronautica Civil) only a Category 2 "conditional" rating for safety-oversight standards. Keen to earn its IASAP Cat 1 rating, which affects US-Colombia services and perceptions of Colombian air travel, the Aeronautica Civil is recertificating all Colombian airlines. So far, only Avianca and ACES have undergone the renewed scrutiny. Lenis believes that other Colombian-registered airlines, with their older fleets, will find the experience more expensive, including the pressure to upgrade their crew-training. He is confident, however, that the FAA will award the Aeronautica Civil a Cat 1 rating.

IATA has described Avianca and Varig as two Latin American airlines which have a pro-active approach to safety. Lenis himself takes it extremely seriously, explaining: "Safety, like any other management task such as sales or marketing, has to be led from the top."

It is part of marketing, Lenis implies, when he says: "Customers are looking at this issue closely. If you have an accident the press are all over you." He adds: "We don't need to hire pilots on short-term contracts like the others do. To fly with Avianca is different. We have set ourselves a standard." Personnel-selection standards are set high, says Lenis, describing basic pilot selection: "They come to us with a twin rating. We test them using a Fokker 50 simulator. If they pass, they are an Avianca pilot. If they fail, well-" He shrugs, adding: "This is another reason why we cannot grow fast."

Avianca has a flight-safety committee (FSC) which meets fortnightly. Guido Fuentes, the aeronautical engineering flight-safety executive officer on the FSC, says: "If we ask him for funding we get it. [Lenis] attends all our meetings."

When IATA was looking for a venue to hold its safety committee meeting, Avianca offered to sponsor the event in Cartagena, Colombia. Sponsorship of the February meeting enabled it to be an open airline-safety seminar of a type never offered before: there was no registration fee. The result was unprecedentedly high Latin American airline participation which delighted IATA (Flight International, 12-18 March, P26). Lenis says: "This event has one major objective: to bring the attention of Avianca's captains to the issues."

Source: Flight International