FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.  Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance. 

2006 August 20

Aviation safety. The inherent dangers – in detail.

ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Authority) has looked at the “evolving commercial and operating environment” in air transport and how if affects safety.  Are developments like the intense pressure on cutting costs, and the impact of liberalisation, reducing airline safety? A report couched in ICAO’s cautious language indicates there are wide-ranging and serious concerns. 

Most countries operate under the 1944 Chicago Convention, which includes a requirement that each country is responsible for safety and security for aircraft registered in its country and operating in its airspace. Two major factors have emerged that threaten this simple ruling: [] An increase in aviation activity is putting a strain on the ability of some states to perform their role. Generally, this means not enough trained staff or budget; both are linked. 

[] Some commercial arrangements covering aircraft involve, in ICAO’s words, “a cascade of entities, blurring accountability, and making it more difficult for states to identify the line of responsibility”. ICAO hints, for instance, that there may not be enough attention on new airlines, which “might not have the desired safety culture or qualified and properly-trained personnel”. And after licences are awarded, can the authorities carry out adequate “continuous regulatory surveillance over their performance”? 

Similar challenges exist when airlines face cost cutting. The aviation authorities have to ensure that cost-cutting in operational matters does not compromise safety. The (unstated) answer to these seems to be the states are failing. 

Another factor is outsourcing of some regulatory activity – by governments to private organisations. When those companies are under their own financial pressures, do they also cut controls? In other words, is the government still controlling the controllers? If all these are tough-enough challenges, these generally concern activity in a single country. The situation becomes more complicated where it involves multiple parties in different countries. 

For aircraft, as noted above, the responsibility is with the country of registration. But commercial developments have started to challenge that simple trail of responsibility: [] Operations of foreign-registered aircraft. Aircraft might be leased and operated outside the country of registration. Which state is responsible? 

[] Flags of convenience. Some aircraft rarely if ever return to their country of registration. ICAO believes some groups use FoCs just to save money, but others to take advantage of a system with minimal or no economic or technical oversight. [] Flights with foreign flight crew. Existing rules say the pilot must be controlled and monitored by the country where the aircraft is registered. But as seen above, that might mean a complex trail. 

[] Offshore operations. Meaning flights operated entirely away from the country of registration and the country of the operator. [] Multiple parties and shared brand. Such as code-sharing. Whose rules to follow? Who checks, and who has authority to check, what? 

[] Cross-border airline merger/acquisition. Meaning some combined airlines have two principal places of businesses (for instance, Air Asia, Air France/KLM, Lufthansa/Swiss, Qantas/Jetstar). Again, who checks what? [] Outsourcing activities. Repair and maintenance in countries outside country of registration. 

That ICAO is aware of these problems is at least a start. And it has introduced what are called SARPs (ICAO standards and recommended practices) . And the other major industry body, IATA (International Air Transport Association) also has its IOSA (the IATA Operational Safety Audit) , introduced in 2003. And
Chile has just shown one solution. It has said that adherence to IOSA is now a requirement in the country’s airline certification process.
 

But the industry is under great pressure, financially and commercially, that it might not be possible for some states to carry out their responsibilities under the Chicago Convention and to follow ICAO’s SARPs or IATA’s IOSAs. So this may not be enough. ICAO now needs to debate all of the above points, and produce a list – no matter how lengthy – of new rules. And just as the European Union is publishing a Black List of airlines, a Black List of states is also needed. 

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