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Keeping our skies safe

Low cost carrier airlines (LCCs) often attract media and government regulator attention over allegations of poor safety standards

This makes us wonder whether a stricter approach to regulation could help these and all airlines improve their game.

On 16 August 2013 ZestAir was grounded by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines for safety concerns. Some of the issues may have been to blame for mechanical problems resulting in domestic flight cancellations in July and August. This is not an isolated case in the Asia Pacific region (for example, Adam Air was grounded in Indonesia in 2008). Such actions by safety regulators have also been taken in Australia. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority grounded Tiger Airways in 2011. Tiger has since satisfied the regulator of its safety standards and moved on to rebuild its business.

But LCCs in general are prospering. They are responsible for linking more and more Australians with overseas destinations previously only reachable by more expensive “flag carriers” (major full-service airlines). At the recent Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation Summit in Sydney Executive Chairman Peter Harbison said LCCs will likely dominate long-haul air travel in Asia by the end of the decade, and AirAsia X will be the fourth largest airline in Australia. In fact the AirAsia X CEO, Azran Osman-Rani, said Australia already accounted for a third of the airline’s business.

Given the massive influence LCCs will have on our region now and in future is this the time for Australia to consider overseas experience with legal approaches of keeping the skies safe?

Europe provides an extreme example. Certain airlines (in fact a 26 page list of airlines from around the world) are banned from flying in the European Union under aviation laws and processes which Australia could also rely on if it wished. The list bans many African, Asian, and Central Asian airlines from flying in Europe. The Europeans call the list the “EU air safety list” but it is more commonly known in aviation circles as the “EU blacklist”.

Each nation which has signed the Chicago Convention of 1944 may restrict foreign airlines from their airspace by not recognising a certificate of airworthiness, if the country providing it has failed to meet minimum standards. The International Civil Aviation Organisation runs an audit program for assessing safety standards known as the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP). The more international safety standards implemented into national law, the better a country’s USOAP result. Many countries are considered deficient under USOAP and these are generally reflected on the list of airlines with the unhappy distinction of being on the European list.

There is evidence that this approach works and, in Europe, bans have been lifted.  This happened last month for Philippine Airlines which became the first airline from that nation allowed to fly into Europe since 2010.  In a 10 July 2013 press release the European Commission Vice-President responsible for transport, Siim Kallas, said:

“The EU air safety list was created for the protection of European skies and citizens, but it can also serve as a wake-up call to countries and airlines in need to get their safety house back in order. Today we confirmed our willingness to remove countries and airlines from the list if they show real commitment and capacity to implement international safety standards in a sustainable manner”.

As more and more Australians choose to fly with and rely on LCCs these are the kinds of issues which will require serious thought for policymakers in our region. LCCs can provide great value for money and make the skies more accessible for many travellers. However, the safety records of some airlines may warrant different or more exacting safety oversight methods than those now used.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 23, 2013.

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