Ban of African Airlines From European Union Sparks Protests

IN May this year, the European Commission updated its list of airlines that are banned from European Union (EU) airspace.

The ban now affects 15 African countries including Zambia. The adoption of this policy has not gone without protest by the African aviation community and questions have been raised as to who is the ultimate beneficiary of this policy.

Airlines that are included on this list are subject to an operating ban and are not permitted within European airspace.

The Nairobi-based African Airlines Association (AFRAA) has publicly admitted that Africa needs to improve its air safety record and that while the EU list may be well intended; its main achievement has been to “undermine international confidence in the African airline industry.” AFRAA has pointed out that a blacklist has not proved to be helpful in solving the safety problem in Africa.

Despite the protest, it is necessary to highlight that Africa has several examples of serious safety deficiencies.

In March 2010, the European Commission announced the ban on all Sudanese air carriers.

The civil aviation authority of Sudan has been criticised with “persistent non-compliance with international standards in the area of oversight.”

The ban came as no surprise to the national airline of Sudan Airways that has suffered from a poor safety reputation for years.

In June 2008, 29 people perished after one of its aircraft burned after landing in Khartoum – one of several incidents.

A few weeks later, Sudan’s aviation authority issued a statement stating that the whole airline had been grounded for a month due to breaking aviation and operational rules.

The argument from AFRAA is that the banning of an airline not only prohibits that airline from operating to the EU but also impacts its ticket sales to other destinations, including on code shared routes (a flight which is operated by one airline, but marketed by another).

Travel agents and airline partners in the EU are required by regulation at the time of sales or booking to notify passengers that the airline is blacklisted.

The result is that it denies potential revenue to African airlines including those that meet stringent safety regulations while facing intense competition from major European carriers such as Air France-KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways.

AFRAA has also questioned why this list includes airlines that have never before operated scheduled flights to Europe and neither have the capacity to do so – such as the Zambian registered airlines operating licence or International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) registration number.

This organisation is perplexed by the inclusion of such companies -“While the net losers are African carriers, the net beneficiaries are always the EU carriers that swiftly step in to fill the vacuum and take the market share of the banned airlines,” said Dr Elijah Chingosho secretary general of AFRAA.

His remarks were sparked by the recent addition of Mozambique’s national airline – LAM onto the banned list. Chingosho argues that the airline has a safety regime that is of international standing.

“LAM Mozambique Airlines’ safety record is impeccable. Since the company was established in 1980, it has not had a single major accident. Since 1989 there have been no accidents of any kind involving a LAM aircraft. Major European airlines can make no such claim.”

LAM attained the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Safety Audit Certification in 2007, later renewed in 2009. The airline is also certified with the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) Certification and ISO 9000 Certification.

The IOSA program is an internationally recognised and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline. “However, the airline’s impeccable safety record has not spared it from the EU blanket banning.

AFRAA fails to see how such blanket banning contributes to encourage African carriers that strive to achieve industry best practices in safety standards.” he added.

Chingosho pointed out that despite the blacklisting of Mozambique, EU carriers will continue to operate with increased frequencies and higher yields to Mozambique and other countries that are subject to the ban.

In response to this article, a European Commission (EC) statement from Brussels shed some light on some of these concerns. “The results of ICAO audits show that most if not all of the countries with more than 80% lack of implementation of international standards is currently on the community list.”

The EC further says, “Most of those airlines which are currently on the list do not operate into the EU – this however is not a reason for not excluding them from flying in the EU.

The criterion for imposing a ban is not whether or not they fly into the EU but whether or not they comply with ICAO safety standards. Consequently, as provided in European rules, passengers are informed about the airlines which are subject to an operating ban in the EU, so that they are able to make informed choices about the airlines with which they travel.”

The EU regulation is that any competent civil aviation authority form the European Community may decide to subject an air carrier, including those not operating to EU States, to request systematic checks in order to verify its likelihood of compliance with the relevant safety standards.

In practice, the numerous clauses that follow the regulations surrounding the ban may have created some confusion and controversy. Some argue that the American approach to the issue might be more realistic.

An example is that of the Philippines. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded that country’s safety rating to a category 2 based on “significant safety concern” findings by the ICAO against the Philippine aviation safety regulators.

Subsequently, a ban was imposed on all air carriers from that country much to the disappointment of the national airline Philippine Airlines (PAL).

The airline was included on the list despite being the only IOSA certified airline in the Philippines, and fully compliant with internationally accepted safety standards.

Interestingly, despite the country falling to a category 2, the US FAA decided not to impose a ban on PAL and allowed the airline to continue operating its schedule of up to 33 weekly flights from the Philippines to the US – based on being the only fully safety compliant airline in the country.

In reaction, the EC spokesperson said: “The case of Philippines Airlines is a good example of how safety deficiencies, in the form of a lack of technical and administrative capabilities of civil aviation authorities, prove to be the detriment of airlines which as such do not seem to have major safety problems.

It is important to note that the system of ICAO established by the Chicago Convention does not allow self-regulation of airlines but requires certification and oversight of airlines, airports, ATM providers, maintenance organisations, pilot training schools and pilots by Civil Aviation Authorities.”

With mounting anger over the crash especially from France, a probe was launched into the operations of Yemania Airways in December 2009.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) conducted an on-site visit to Yemen to verify the safety situation with a view to evaluate its actual compliance.

The result of the assessment demonstrated that the authorities in Yemen had the ability to conduct effective oversight of Yemania Airways. The Yemania case brings forth an interesting ideology.

While the European travel industry in particular called to have the airline blacklisted, European aviation authorities were, and are still puzzled by the crash of a much newer, fully safety compliant Air France Airbus that also plunged into the sea in similar circumstances just weeks before.

IATA’s outgoing Director General Giovanni Bisignani commented on the issue by saying that – “there is no competition when it comes to safety. Cooperation is the way forward. We have a common goal of zero accidents and zero fatalities.”

While it is widely accepted that the EU airline ban may help to raise safety standards by pushing African airlines to tighten their safety belts, the execution of the policy however may need to be revisited.