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Explainer: Commission adopts new EU Air Safety List

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What is the EU Air Safety List?

The EU Air Safety List (ASL) is a list of air carriers from non-EU countries, which do not fulfil the necessary international safety standards. The carriers on the ASL are banned from operating to, in and from the EU. Also, carriers that do not operate to the EU can be put on the ASL, in order to warn the public travelling outside of the EU about their unsafe status. If the safety authorities of a third country are not able to fulfil their international safety oversight obligations, all the carriers of such country can be put on the ASL.

The EU Air Safety List, while evidently not popular with the affected countries, has developed into a very powerful, and internationally recognised tool to help improve the safety of international aviation. This is the case both for flights to the EU, but also for aviation outside of the EU. The ASL is also seen as a strong preventive tool, because countries, which are under scrutiny, tend to improve their safety oversight to prevent seeing their air carriers on the list.

Which carriers are currently on the EU Air Safety List?

After the update of June 2020, the 35th update, 96 air carriers are banned from EU skies:

  • 90 airlines certified in 16 states*, due to a lack of safety oversight by the aviation authorities from these states;
  • Six individual airlines, based on safety concerns with regard to these airlines themselves: Avior Airlines (Venezuela), Blue Wing Airlines (Suriname), Iran Aseman Airlines (Iran), Iraqi Airways (Iraq), Med-View Airlines (Nigeria) and Air Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe).

An additional three airlines are subject to operational restrictions and can only fly to the EU with specific aircraft types: Air Service Comores (the Comoros), Iran Air (Iran) and Air Koryo (North Korea).

Who is responsible for the updates to the EU Air Safety List?

For the purpose of updating the list, the Commission is assisted by the EU Air Safety Committee (ASC), which is composed of aviation safety experts from all the EU Member States and chaired by the Commission, with the support of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Acting on a proposal by the Commission, the Air Safety Committee adopts its opinion by qualified majority, which is then submitted to the European Parliament before final adoption by the Commission and subsequent publication in the Official Journal. To date, all decisions taken by the Commission to impose or to lift restrictions have always been reached with the unanimous support of the ASC. Equally, every update of the ASL met with the unanimous support of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee.

What is the procedure for updates to the EU Air Safety List?

All Member States and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have the obligation to communicate information to the Commission, which may be relevant in the context of updating the ASL. The European Commission and the Air Safety Committee use a variety of sources of information when assessing whether or not international safety standards are respected. These sources include ICAO, FAA, EASA, SAFA** and TCO*** reports, as well as information gathered by individual Member States and the Commission itself. It is important to note that this assessment is made against international safety standards (and not the EU safety standards, which are sometimes more stringent), and notably the standards promulgated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

To whom does it apply?

The rules establishing the list of banned carriers apply to all air carriers irrespective of their nationality – EU and non-EU ones. The rules apply only to commercial air transport, i.e. to air transport of passengers and cargo for remuneration or hire. The rules do not apply to private and non-commercial flights (e.g. positioning flights for maintenance purposes).

How often is the list updated and what is the timeframe for this? Is there not a risk that it will quickly become obsolete?

The Air Safety List may be updated whenever the Commission deems it is necessary, or upon request of an EU Member State. The ASC normally meets two or three times every year, as necessary. In cases of emergency, a specific procedure is foreseen.

How can an airline be cleared and taken off the list?

It is possible for states and air carriers to be removed from the air safety list. If an airline considers that it should be taken off the list because it complies with the relevant safety standards, it can address a request to the Commission, either directly or through its civil aviation authority. To enable a ban to be lifted, sufficient evidence needs to be provided to the EU to prove that the capacity of the airline and of its oversight authority to implement international safety standards is of a sufficient level. The Commission services will then assess the evidence presented by the airline and/or its oversight authority to substantiate its request for being withdrawn from the air safety list, and if the result of the assessment is positive, the Commission will make a proposal to the EU Air Safety Committee.

Notwithstanding the case of individual air carriers, if the underlying reason for an air carrier being on the ASL is due to the poor level of compliance with ICAO standards by its safety oversight authorities, it will require the state to address the significant non-compliances before that air carrier can be removed from the list.

In practical terms, this involves the air carrier and its state providing written information, attending meetings with the Commission and Member States, sometimes being subject to an on-site visit led by the Commission, and taking part in hearings in front of the Air Safety Committee.

How is an airline added to the list?

If the Commission or a Member State acquires and confirms evidence indicating serious safety deficiencies on the part of an airline or its oversight authority anywhere in the world, the list will be updated to include such airline or all the airlines of such country.

Does the inclusion of an airline in the air safety list always mean that it is no longer allowed to fly in Europe?

YES. As long as the air carrier is subject to a total ban, it cannot operate with its aircraft and personnel in the Union’s airspace. The airline is included in Annex A to the regulation whereby the Air Safety List is updated. Equally, as long as an air carrier is subject to a partial ban it can operate only with the aircraft stipulated in the Regulation. The airline is included in Annex B to the regulation whereby the Air Safety List is updated.

Banned airlines can, however, use the aircraft and personnel of other airlines, which are not on the ASL, on the basis of contracts called “wet-lease agreements”. In this way, passengers and cargo can still be transported on the basis of tickets sold by a banned airline, whereas the actual flight is operated by airlines which fully comply with the safety rules. Furthermore, aircraft which are used for government or state purposes (e.g. transport of the heads of state and/or government, humanitarian flights), do not fall under the safety requirements of ICAO. Such aircraft are considered to be operating “state flights” and they can fly into the EU even if they are banned from operating commercial flights to the EU. However, such flights do need a special authorisation (“diplomatic clearance”) from all the Member States, which the state aircraft overflies, as well as from the state of destination.

In essence, banned airlines cannot enter the sovereign airspace of any Member State and fly over their territory while they are banned (totally or partially).

Does the list prevent EU Member States from taking individual safety measures at a national level?

NO. The general principle is that whatever measure is considered at national level must be also examined at Union level. When an air carrier is considered unsafe and therefore banned in one Member State, there is an obligation to examine this measure at EU level with a view to applying it throughout the European Union. Nevertheless, even where a ban is not extended to the EU, there is scope for Member States to continue to act at national level in certain exceptional cases, particularly in emergencies or in response to a safety issue specifically affecting them.

What are airlines’ “rights of defence”?

Airlines that have been banned, or that are being investigated in view of a potential ban, have the right to express their points of view, submit any documents, which they consider appropriate for their defence, and make oral and written presentations to the Air Safety Committee and the Commission. This means that they can submit comments in writing, add new items to their file, and ask to be heard by the Commission or to attend a hearing before the Aviation Safety Committee, which then formulates its opinion based on these proceedings and the materials submitted prior to or during the hearing.

Is the Commission approach a punitive one?

The Commission’s sole aim is to improve aviation safety, which is in everyone’s interest, and in no way to affect a country’s economic or social development. Countries affected can put in place technical assistance measures to help airlines achieve a satisfactory level of aviation safety. While in the past the focus has been to put countries and carriers on the ASL, the Commission is now also focusing on working with affected states to help them improve their safety situation, in order to allow them to be released from the EU Air Safety List once the necessary safety levels have been reached.

How is the public informed about the EU Air Safety List?

The latest version of the list is made available to the public online at https://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/safety/air-ban_en. The Commission also liaises closely with European and international travel agent associations each time that any changes are made to the list in order that they may be in the best possible position to aid their clients – the passengers – in making informed decisions when making their travel arrangements. Moreover, the “Air Safety List” regulation also obliges national civil aviation authorities, EASA and airports in the territory of the Member States to bring the ASL to the attention of passengers, both via their websites and, where relevant, in their premises.

In what way does the EU Air Safety List provide rights to European travellers?

The Air Safety List Regulation establishes the right of any passenger to know the identity of every airline they fly with throughout their trip. To this effect, the contracting carrier is required to inform passengers of the identity of the operating air carrier or carriers when making a reservation, whatever the means used to make the booking. The passenger must also be kept informed of any change of operating carrier, either at check-in or, at the latest, when boarding. The Regulation also gives passengers the right to reimbursement or re-routing if a carrier with which a booking has been made is subsequently added to the Air Safety List, resulting in cancellation of the flight concerned.

In what way does the publication of the EU Air Safety List help European citizens travelling beyond EU territory?

The ASL does not only ban unsafe airlines from operating to, from and in the EU. The publication of the list also provides useful information to people wishing to travel outside the European Union, in order for them to avoid flying with these airlines. The list also safeguards the rights of consumers who have bought a trip at a travel agent, which includes a flight operated by an airline on the ASL.

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EU Politics

Towards a stronger and more resilient Schengen area

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The first ever Schengen Forum, convened today by the Commission, allowed for constructive exchanges towards building a stronger and more resilient Schengen area. The videoconference gathered Members of the European Parliament and Home Affairs Ministers with the aim of fostering cooperation and political dialogue and rebuilding trust.  

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Today’s discussions showed a strong collective commitment to preserve and strengthen Schengen. For the last 35 years, we have built an entire Schengen architecture to better protect the area without controls at internal borders. And we must continue to build on and improve that architecture going forward.” 

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shown how much we need Schengen. Moving freely within the EU is a daily necessity for millions of Europeans for work or school for instance. It’s also crucial for companies transporting goods around Europe. Schengen can be our lifeline when it comes to Europe’s economic recovery post-coronavirus. That is why our discussions today on building a more resilient Schengen are so important.”  

The discussions focused on: 

Improving the mechanism to evaluate the implementation of the Schengen rules: Options for operational improvements as well as legislative changes to the mechanism were discussed for better monitoring, quicker and more efficient identification of possible deficiencies and effective follow up. 

Finding a way forward on the revision of the Schengen Borders Code: Participants discussed possible ways forward to improve the current Schengen rules, with the shared objective of overcoming existing internal border controls and ensuring that any possible reintroduction of controls at internal borders in the future is proportionate, used as a measure of last resort and for a limited period of time. 

Better managing the EU’s external borders: Participants stressed the need for quickly putting in place the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Traveller Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). These systems complement existing databases such as the Schengen Information System or the Visa Information System, which need to be used in full. The ongoing work towards ensuring that information systems for migration, border management and security become interoperable by 2023 was highlighted as crucial to give border guards the information they need to know who is crossing the EU’s borders. The deployment of the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps starting from January 2021 will also provide increased support to Member States’ border guards whenever and wherever needed. 

Enhancing police cooperation and information exchange: Common and coordinated European action, for instance through increased police cooperation, better information exchange and better use of new technologies, is crucial to guarantee security within the Schengen area. Police checks can also constitute an effective alternative to the reintroduction of border controls. Measures such as joint patrols, joint investigation teams, cross-border hot pursuits or joint threat analysis were discussed as being alternatives to effectively address threats to security.  

Strengthening the governance of the Schengen area: Regular meetings of the Schengen Forum, based on reports provided by the Commission, will help ensure the political involvement of all relevant players.  

Next steps  

Today’s discussions are the first step in an inclusive political debate towards building a stronger Schengen area based on mutual trust. They will feed into the Schengen Strategy that the Commission intends to present in mid-2021.  

Following today’s first videoconference, the Schengen Forum will continue to meet regularly both at political or technical levels. The next meeting of the Forum at political level will take place in spring 2021, ahead of the presentation of the Strategy for a stronger Schengen area. Targeted consultations at technical level will also take place with representatives from the European Parliament and national authorities over the next months.  

Background  

35 years ago, 5 Member States agreed to remove border controls between themselves. Today, the Schengen area encompasses 26 European States with over 400 million citizens and it is a key policy of the European Union. It underpins the seamless functioning of the EU internal market in goods and services and has allowed Europeans to organise their private and professional lives around unfettered travel around Europe. 

Schengen rules require an update to adapt them to evolving challenges. The pandemic, security concerns, and migration management issues have led Member States to reintroduce internal border checks. To address these challenges and build a more resilient Schengen area, the Commission announced in September this year the creation of a Schengen Forum to foster operational cooperation and stronger confidence in the rules.   

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EU Politics

MEPs condemn Turkey’s activities in Varosha, Cyprus, and call for sanctions

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Turkey’s decision to “open” the sealed-off suburb of Varosha undermines prospects of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, warn MEPs.

In a resolution adopted by 631 votes in favour, 3 against and 59 abstentions, MEPs condemn Turkey’s illegal activities in the Varosha suburb of the city of Famagusta and warn that its partial “opening” weakens prospects of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, exacerbating divisions and entrenching the permanent partition of the island.

MEPs call on Turkey to transfer Varosha to its lawful inhabitants under the temporary administration of the UN (in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 550 (1984)) and to refrain from any actions that alter the demographic balance on the island through a policy of illegal settlement.

Tough sanctions against Turkey

A sustainable solution to reunify the island of Cyprus and its people can only be found through dialogue, diplomacy, and negotiations, MEPs stress. They call on the European Council to maintain its unified position on Turkey’s illegal actions and impose tough sanctions in response.

MEPS regret that the Turkish authorities have endorsed the two-state solution for Cyprus and reiterate their support for a fair, comprehensive and viable settlement on the basis of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with a single international legal status. They also call on the EU to play a more active role in bringing the negotiations under UN auspices to a successful conclusion.

Tense EU-Turkey relations

As Turkey distances itself more and more from European values and standards, EU-Turkey relations are at a historic low, warns Parliament. Its illegal and unilateral military actions in the Eastern Mediterranean infringe on the sovereignty of EU member states Greece and Cyprus. MEPs also point out Turkey’s direct support of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as its actions in Libya and Syria.

Background

The Turkish army fenced off Varosha immediately after the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The Greek Cypriots who fled from Varosha were not allowed to return and with public entry prohibited, Varosha has effectively become a ghost town.

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EU Politics

Commission and EBRD promote innovative use of data in public procurement involving EU funds

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The European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Open Contracting Partnership are joining forces to improve the quality and transparency of public tenders co-funded by EU funds in Greece and Poland. Thanks to their support, two pilot projects will provide expertise and hands-on support to public authorities in both countries, with a focus on digital innovation.

By promoting the smart use of innovation and open data, the two pilots will help public administrations to better plan, implement and monitor the procurement of works, goods and services. This will improve the use of public resources and increase opportunities for businesses, especially for small and medium companies (SMEs). Moreover, thanks to a cooperation with local civil society organisations, this initiative will also favour transparency of public spending and stimulate citizens’ participation in the monitoring of investments with a direct impact on the community, such as investments in sustainability, local development and social inclusion. 

The two pilot projects

  • In Greece, the project will aim at consolidating and integrating all databases into a single smart public contract register. This will enable online access for bidders and citizens, improve quality of data and facilitate the use of data-driven analytical tools for monitoring the procurement process.
  • In Poland, the initiative will support Polish national and local authorities to introduce open data in public procurement and promote automated collection, standardisation, and consolidation of procurement data on all tenders.

The two pilots will run until the end of 2021 and their results will be disseminated in order to ensure a successful roll out in other Member States.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “In the programming period 2021-2027, Cohesion policy will continue to support Member States and regions in their economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic, as well as boosting competitiveness through new investments in research and innovation, digital transition and the implementation of the European Green Deal agenda. Through the use of new technologies, national and local public authorities managing EU funds will be able to spend public money more effectively ensuring the best possible results for citizens and businesses”.

Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added: “Transparency in public procurement is essential to ensure efficiency of public investments, in line with the EU strategic policy goals aiming at a greener, digital and more resilient Europe. Public authorities can rely on the EU’s public procurement framework, tools like the electronic procurement systems and open data for an efficient use of public funds.”

The EBRD Vice-President, Pierre Heilbronn commented: “The EBRD is committed to support legal and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring that procurement laws and practices are modern, in line with international standards and can swiftly respond to emerging challenges. Together with Open Contracting Partnership, we are sharing the experience of successful civil society procurement monitoring based on open data. Our joint efforts aim to create a framework for enlisting civil society organisations to support public procurement reforms and use open data to monitor procurement.”

Background

In the context of the next long-term EU budget, more than €370 billion from Cohesion policy funds will be invested to support the digital and green transitions of the Member States. Every year, public authorities in the EU spend around 14% of GDP on public procurement, amounting to more than €1.9 trillion. Almost half of Cohesion policy funding is channelled through public procurement. The Commission has promoted a series of initiatives aimed at helping Member States to improve the way administrations and beneficiaries use public procurement for EU investments. These include the Integrity Pacts to ensure more efficient and transparent tenders and safeguarding EU taxpayers’ money. The Commission also took action to facilitate citizen engagement for better governance and effective Cohesion policy investments.

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