EU GETS READY FOR AN AVIATION SCHENGEN
The two big air crashes that took place in August raised concerns about the safety of the air transport again. Experts comment that the tragic incident with the Boeing 737-800 of the Cyprian Helios Airlines which crashed in Greece on August 14 was caused by uncapsulation of the pilots' cabin and the saloon. Two days later a McDonnel Douglas 80 of the Colombian West Caribbean air company carrying 152 passengers aboard crashed, too. Its pilot asked for permission to enter Venezuela's air space and land on the airport in Maracaibo. He last said that the machine had problems with the two engines. Then the connection failed and the plane disappeared from the radar screens.The reaction of the European Commission was immediate and firm. The Commissioner for Transport Jacques Barrot said that by the end of the current year a list would be launched on the INTERNET of the unreliable aeroplanes and carriers across the world. He explained the need of urgent actions with the crashes in Greece and Venezuela in which citizens of the European Union were among the victims.Back last autumn the transport ministers in the community reached an agreement on the preparation of a black list of planes and air companies which might endanger the safety of the passengers. The decision was approved by the members of the transport commission at the European Parliament, too. Meanwhile, data provided by the respective national services about the technical condition of the planes and about the companies are already entering a single register.There is a growing number of experts, however, who fear that the black list might appear subjective and politicized. It is also expected to include older plane models of the world's leading air construction companies. In Russia, for example, Tupolev is the most popular passengers aeroplane - there are more than 850 TU-134s and about 900 TU-154s flying in the country now. In a global scale, the US Boeing concern is the leader with more than 14,000 machines. But according to experts the problem does not lie in the age of the planes. There are examples in the history of aviation showing that in case of proper technical service and timely replacement of aggregates and parts some of them fly without problems in the course of decades. In the meantime, a number of air carriers, particularly the smaller ones, hire or take on lease old machines which haven't passed the respective repair works and the obligatory examinations. They are usually used to serve cheaper chartered flights and the so-called low-cost air companies.Debates about whether Bulgarian carriers are threatened to join the black list are running high in Bulgaria, too. According to an article in the French Liberation newspaper, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Serbia and Montenegro rank among the countries which create risks for the aviation security. But as far as the BANKER weekly learned, the article in question published on August 19 mentions neither the name of Bulgaria nor those of any of the other companies. It is also written there that a passenger cannot easily realize whether the plane he gets on is a flying tomb guided by a team of novices. Besides, the authors of the article say, the problem is not that there isn't a sufficient number of safety requirements, but whether the companies observe them and who controls them. No country is able to check all the planes that fly above its territory, therefore it is necessary to monitor its own machines. The international air safety is based on the system of mutual trust, where everybody is obliged to respect the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) signed by 187 countries, the French reporters add.Still, Liberation notes that the factor most determining the safety of flights by an air carrier is the economic situation in the country in which it is registered. In other words, the EU urgent measures will mostly damage air companies from countries in Central and Eastern Europe which cannot afford newer plane models for objective reasons.Trying to insure itself, Bulgaria Air company, the national carrier, announced it had 30 agreements for commercial cooperation. Ten of them were code share ones, which means agreements for joint operation with another carrier on the same line. In order to sign an agreement of the kind, air companies need to give mutual positive statements on the observation of the world flight security standards regarding the condition of the aircraft fleet, its technical service, the preparation and qualification of the flying and the technical staff, and the quality of services to passengers and cargoes.The remaining 20 agreements are interline ones, meaning that the sides mutually recognize their transport documents. These contracts lay the grounds and precede the code share ones, the company explained. But whether they will save it from the black list is difficult to say now.Undoubtedly, there are safety criteria which each air company must meet. But it is the respective national body and not the European Commission that should watch for its condition and the condition of its planes. I think that this is all a matter of eliminating the competition, Milcho Milanov, former deputy minister of transport and Chairman of the Bulgarian Aviation Forum, told the BANKER weekly.There is no doubt that the aviation is a specific transport which needs considerable financing for its security, especially in the aftermath of September 11. But it is logical to classify the carriers on the basis of the experience they have gathered and on the flying results they have shown, instead of calculating how old their planes are and which country they come from. Otherwise, there will be a new Schengen barrier - this time an air one.