Safety oversight: understaffed, inconsistent

Dwindling resources and, at times, decreasing competencies within European aviation authorities are compromising safety, acccording to European pilot organisation ECA.

ECA was created in 1991 and is the representative body of European pilots at European Union level. It represents over 38,000 European pilots from the national pilot associations in 37 European states.

“Achieving the highest possible level of safety in aviation is paramount and requires effective day-to-day safety oversight. Yet, national authorities, responsible by definition for safety oversight, find themselves in a difficult situation to perform their safety-related obligations,” said ECA.

It said that discrepancies in the two investigations on Ryanair’s fuel emergency landings carried out by the Irish Aviation Authority and its Spanish counterpart AESA, illustrated that there may be reasons for concern: “With one report exonerating the carrier of flying with too little fuel, and the other claiming the first report was not based on a thorough investigation, things get bizarre.”

Safety oversight in aviation is regarded as a national responsibility. In Europe however, with the existence of a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) the situation is more complicated. The national authority is responsible for the oversight of its carriers certificated nationally. However, national authorities may agree to delegate oversight tasks to the authorities where activities take place or to EASA. So companies with foreign bases could see oversight performed by different national authorities.

ECA said that even safety experts at UN aviation agency ICAO point out that the quality of safety oversight systems around the world varies significantly. According to Henry Gourdji from ICAO, 45% of all ICAO member states lack basic safety oversight capabilities to certify their aviation service providers.

“In May 2012, ICAO rang the alarm, pointing towards chronically under-resourced national aviation authorities, particularly in the European and North Atlantic regions,” sais the ECA.

“A similar concern has been voiced by Patrick Goudou, executive director of EASA in a news editorial in July 2012 who wrote: “A key risk I see for the future of the aviation system is the conjunction of a difficult economic situation in the aviation industry with the reduction of staff in oversight organisations – both a consequence of the global financial crisis. The good safety records we enjoy cannot result in decreased vigilance or in questioning the resources needed by regulators and oversight authorities to fulfil their mission”.”

ECA said oversight performed by competent authorities is a key pillar to maintaining and improving the safety level in aviation.

“Specific cases, such as the Ryanair incident investigation, are a good opportunity to think about the challenges authorities face, especially given the limited economic resources and with performance-based rules picking up speed. Under such a performance-based system it is even more important for national CAAs to have all necessary resources at hand to continuously check and safeguard the safety of air travel.”

Posted in Airlines, CAAs/ANSPs, News, Safety

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