By Kerry Ezard in London

Spanish pilots union SEPLA has blasted the country's latest impressive aircraft inspection figures as being misleading and hiding the real problems of aviation safety the country still has.

SEPLA says the latest set of figures, showing the country having risen from bottom of the European Union league of inspection in 2003 to fourth are "contradictory and aimed at confusing public opinion”, and has called for more transparency on the issue of aviation safety.

Spain’s ministry of public works, which includes the country’s civil aviation authority, has just issued a statement saying that Spain is “one of the top countries in the EU” in terms of the number of inspections carried out on foreign aircraft.

The statement says that in 2005 Spanish authorities inspected one out of every 11 foreign aircraft operating within Spain’s airspace, amounting to an increase of 122 foreign aircraft inspections compared to the figure reported in 2004. The statement adds that every single Spanish aircraft was inspected last year, with an average of seven inspections per aircraft, eight times the amount of inspections carried out in 2003.

Public works minister Magdalena Álvarez Ariza says Spain ranked fourth in the EU in 2005 for the number of inspections carried out on foreign aircraft - after France, Italy and Germany - but came last in 2003. She adds that the Spanish government aims to improve Spain’s ranking to number one in 2006.

But SEPLA, which has been holding recent demonstrations to protest against Spain’s aviation safety procedures, says none of the safety programmes put forward by the government over the last couple of years have helped to alleviate the “serious deficiencies” that have been reported by industry professionals.

The union in a statement says it “regrets that the public works minister, through improvisation and lack of transparency, has chosen to politicise the problem instead of listening to professionals”, which it adds is “to the detriment of safety”.

SEPLA suggests the inspection figures released by the government are “not credible”, and questions whether Spain has “adequate staff” to carry out the necessary inspections.

“We are asking the minister to be transparent and explain to us which companies are doing the inspections, how many staff members they have and what type of inspections are being carried out, but she is not telling us this information,” says the union. SEPLA wrote to Álvarez earlier this year requesting a meeting to discuss the union’s concerns, but says no response has been received.

SEPLA also believes the number of flight operations inspections carried out in Spain is “insufficient”. However, the government has boasted that it carried out 27% more flight operations inspections in 2005 than it originally outlined in its aviation safety plan for the year.

The union says it “does not discount the possibility” that more union demonstrations will be held across Spain to draw attention to the union’s concerns, although it notes that there are no plans “at this stage” to go on strike over safety issues.

However, some doubts have been voiced over the legitimacy of SEPLA’s claims. National carrier Iberia says the union’s recent safety demonstrations are a “smokescreen” to mask the ongoing labour relations dispute between the Spanish flag carrier and its pilots.

Iberia had expected to complete labour negotiations with all of its unions by the end of the first quarter, but the carrier’s chairman Fernando Conte in February said that, while an agreement with flight attendants was expected shortly, the pilots’ contract would take longer to negotiate.

Source: Flight International