DALLAS — Flying is considered the safest mode of transportation. This fact is supported by statistics regarding commercial aircraft incidents. Over the past six years, the European Union has experienced only 41 fatalities in commercial air transport, and the number continues to decline year by year.
Of course, the main goal of aviation safety organizations is not only to achieve the complete end of air accidents but also to keep encouraging people to choose flying over other less safe means of transport such as driving. The EU has created its own organization, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is responsible for creating programs to promote the safest development of aviation in Europe.
The most significant program applied by EASA in Europe to guarantee aviation safety is the “EU Air Safety List,” commonly known as the “EU Blacklist.” This list comprises all airlines and air operators that the European Union deems unsafe to fly with, and they are restricted from flying into, out of, or above any EU airspace.
In this article, we will delve into the creation of the EU Air Safety List, its primary characteristics, the most notable airlines featured on the list, and how the ban on AOCs registered in Russia since April 2022 has affected Russian aviation.
How Does the ASL Work?
The European Union Air Safety List (ASL) is a compilation list that includes all airlines that are banned or restricted from operating within the EU because their safety and operational standards do not meet the requirements imposed by the ICAO. This system was first introduced in 2006 and is updated regularly to reflect the changes airlines continuously make in their safety records.
While the main objective of the ASL is to safeguard the safety of EU citizens and passengers, it also has a positive side effect: airlines now have a very strong incentive to maintain their aircraft in good condition to avoid losing their tickets to the European market, one of the most valuable in the world.
The Air Safety list is maintained and revised by the European Commission, which keeps strong bonds with aviation authorities from all member states of the EU to ensure that the list remains accurate and up-to-date at all times. The European Commission meets every year with the goal of discussing if any operator needs to be added to the list or if any blacked-out airline is now free to fly to Europe again.
If an airline fails to meet the safety requirements and is added to the ASL, this means that it can no longer operate flights to or from any EU airport, and it is also banned from overflying EU airspace until it improves its safety records. This doesn’t mean however that the carrier cannot offer flights to Europe anymore.
If the safety issues are strictly related to the operation of their aircraft, a banned airline can evade its prohibition by, for example, wet-leasing an aircraft from an ACMI company, such as HiFly (5K) or Wamos Air (EB), and using that aircraft to operate their routes to Europe in a completely legal way. This, of course, is a big cost for an airline and it is only a temporary solution to the problem.
When Is a New Airline Added to the List?
Adding a new carrier to the Air Safety List is not as quick and easy as just taking a look at their incident records. It is a long and complicated journey that can take months or even years, as a dishonest prohibition for an airline to fly into Europe is a very big hit to its economic situation and operations.
The process starts with a proposal made by any of the EU aviation authorities that have considered as unsafe a specific carrier. Then, a commission made by relevant members of all the authorities flies to the country the airline is based and makes an assessment of its situation. This commission is the one responsible for collecting all the specific evidence to prove the bad safety record of the airline.
The commission, as well as the evidence, then flies back to Europe and waits until the next meeting of the General European Commission on Air Safety which happens every year. This meeting is not periodical though, as it is only summoned when a considerable number of proposals for different airlines coincide in order to make the system more efficient.
In this meeting, all EU aviation authorities, as well as the EU Commission, discuss the situation of every airline proposed for addition to the list. Additionally, the authorities also make consultations with the member states, industry experts, stakeholders, and other relevant aviation organizations in order to have the clearest possible view of every case and take the best decision.
Finally, when the verdict is known, the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport of the European Union makes the announcement official and the list gets updated. At the moment of writing, the latest update of the ASL happened on November 23rd, 2022, when it was decided to add Russian carrier I-Fly (F7) to the list.
Can a Banned Airline Request Clearance from the List?
Of course, a banned airline can request clearance from the ASL. To do so, the carrier must demonstrate that it has taken appropriate measures to address the safety concerns that led to its inclusion on the list. These measures may include improvements to the airline’s safety management systems, training programs for staff, and maintenance procedures, among many others.
The process of requesting clearance from the list begins with the airline submitting a formal request to the European Commission. This request should include details of the safety measures that the airline has taken, as well as evidence to support the effectiveness of these measures. The European Commission will then review the request and may request additional information from the airline or conduct an inspection of its operations, repeating the same assessments mentioned before.
If the European Commission concludes that the airline has improved its safety record, it may recommend to the member states that the airline be removed from the EU Air Safety List. The decision to remove an airline from the list is ultimately made by the member states, who must vote in favor of the recommendation. If the airline is removed from the list, it is free to operate within the EU.
It is important to note that the process of requesting clearance from the ASL can be very long and complex. Airlines need to invest enormous time and resources to address all safety concerns and demonstrate their commitment to safety. It is crucial for both the carrier and the European Commission to not fall into the same mistake and grant rights to fly to Europe to an airline that is still not prepared to.
Even if the banned airline eventually is successful in securing the clearance, it may still face reputational damage from customers and be heavily supervised by regulators for a long time after.
Exceptions Within the EU Air Safety List
Although the European Union Air Safety List is known for its strictness, there are rare occasions when a banned airline can be granted an exception to fly into Europe. These exceptions only happen and are granted on a case-to-case basis, talking about a specific aircraft flying from one specific airport to another, where changing a single small factor may directly cancel the exception. Here are some examples.
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Featured image: Until further notice, all Aeroflot due aircraft remain grounded and can be transferred to other customers. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways