EU UNFIT TO REGULATE EUROPEAN AVIATION?
When Antonio Tajani – the new EU Transport Commissioner – addressed the European Parliament’s Transport Committee in September, he stated that aviation safety is an “absolute priority” for him as “on safety, no compromise is possible. With European elections on the horizon such comments are intended to gain voters trust. Yet away from the politics the facts point to a different reality.
In September 2007 AEI issued a warning that European air safety could be compromised if the EU was not prepared to promptly tackle the 1600 plus audit findings raised by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as part of their oversight of European Aviation. EU officials refused to confirm or deny the figures claiming that releasing such information into the public domain could jeopardize any potential legal proceedings against countries who fail to meet the required standards. The EU in fact dispatched a senior official to the AEI Annual Congress in London to explain to delegates how we had got it all wrong. Of course the figures however remained confidential.
Yet despite the EU’s apparent no compromise approach to air safety, during the past 12 months not one single National Aviation Authority has faced or is facing legal proceedings. Therefore we decided to use freedom of information legislation to obtain the reports. On reviewing the information received, the situation became very worrying indeed. Below is what the EU doesn’t want you to know:
(2005) 675 findings related to airworthiness
(2006) 833 findings related to airworthiness
(2007) 521 findings related to airworthiness
269 of these are classed as findings “which if not corrected promptly raise safety concerns”.
In addition and despite AEI’s continued warnings about Engineer licensing, the 2007 Standardisation report contains this statement:
“ Maintenance Licenses (Part 66) remains an open issue raising standardisation concerns and in some cases even safety concerns”.
Of course the above comes as no surprise to most of you. We have all witnessed the dumbing down of examination standards, the commercially biased licence conversion processes in place, the blatant ignoring of regulations intended to raise safety levels and the general all-round lowering of standards. But more importantly what is the EU doing about it?
The answer unfortunately is not a lot. EASA was set up as an executive body of the European Commission in order to perform a monitoring function whilst promoting the highest common standards of safety. EASA (as one can witness from the reports) actually does its job very well and has raised many safety related findings. Yet the EU in its wisdom insisted that the enforcement powers remained in Brussels, rather than in Cologne with EASA. This is nothing more than playing politics with safety.
The result is plenty of non compliances but vastly differing response times as far as enforcement is concerned. Unfortunately we have been here before. EASA was initially set up because of failings with the JAA (Joint Airworthiness Authorities). The main problem being differing levels of implementation between member states. One Government report states that the:
“JAAs lack of legal status handicaps its effective operation. National variations in some standards remain, while unevenness in the implementation of common standards raises doubts about the quality of safety regulation in some countries. Cumbersome committee structures, and the need to achieve consensus, delay decision-taking. For these reasons all EU Member States, along with all significant EU aviation industry interests, support the creation of a new, powerful pan-European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA). It is planned to establish EASA by international treaty, and to give it legal powers to impose the standards it adopts.”
So exactly what legal powers were bestowed upon EASA?
The following statement says it all:
“We must underline however that the agency has no enforcement powers”.
In plain English, NONE.
Quite frankly the EU are not doing all they should to protect European citizens or maintain safety to the highest levels. The philosopher Santayana once said:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
With the Helios accident still fresh in many minds it can only be considered as utterly amazing that the EU have apparently already forgotten some of the criticisms and recommendations made by the accident investigation team.
The Helios accident investigation report detailed incompetence by the regulating authorities with damning criticisms such as:
“The Regulatory Authority’s diachronic inadequate execution of its oversight responsibilities to ensure the safety of operations of the airlines under its supervision and its inadequate responses to findings of deficiencies documented in numerous audits” and “Ineffectiveness of international aviation authorities to enforce implementation of corrective action plans after relevant audits.”
The Helios report also contained a specific recommendation to prevent a repeat accident:
“action plans are to be developed and implemented in shortest possible time; and impose the necessary pressure when they become aware that international obligations and standards are not being met by the Authorities.”
The Standardisation reports clearly highlight that European Air Safety is not the absolute priority the EU claims it to be. The EASA Annual Standardisation reports are a damning inditement that the EU is just not responsible enough for the job.
They appear unable to comprehend the importance of airlines and National regulators adhering to the regulations thereby ensuring our skies remain safe, preferring instead to gamble with our safety by succumbing to the incessant lobbying from airlines complaining that they are finding it increasingly more difficult to operate.
The latest tragedy involving Spanair further confirms this. Issues were raised by employees prior to the accident about the depth and effect of commercial cutbacks on safety. The motive for the cutbacks was to improve Spanair’s commercial viability. In addition there have been concerns raised about the Spanish DGAC and its ability to regulate.
AEI says enough is enough, the politics surrounding air safety must cease immediately. It is now time for the EU to get its act together before they are held accountable for the next tragedy. Without drastic, urgent measures, it is only a question of time before the next avoidable accident.
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