The most recent update of the EU blacklist of airlines banned from flying into and out of the EU was published on 3 April 2012. The frequency with which the blacklist is being updated has slowed considerably since the first version was published in March 2006 under EC Regulation No. 474/2006.

There has been a gradual shift from the banning of individual airlines by the European Commission, who work on the recommendations of the Air Safety Committee under the European Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) programme, to a blanket banning of countries, whose safety oversight regulators (largely the national civil aviation authorities) are found to be deficient.

The EU blacklist has been heavily criticised in the past for its political bias and apparent unwillingness to ban individual airlines in some countries, while targeting the regulatory oversight authorities in other countries. On 17 September 2012, Tony Tyler, IATA director general, said the EU blacklist of foreign carriers is a misguided approach that does little or nothing to improve safety: “There is no transparency, no clarity on why some carriers are put on the list, and no clear indication of what is required to get off the list.” He gave as an example the fact that the Kazakhstan designated carrier, Air Astana, is only allowed to operate aircraft in the EU that it was operating prior to its 2009 ban, thereby preventing the airline from operating its newest aircraft in EU airspace. Tyler questioned how this sort of policy decision could possibly improve safety: “Some aspects of how the list is administered are absolutely absurd”, pointing out that the EU’s policy also stigmatises a banned country’s air transport industry.

This is a refrain that has been voiced loudly by the African Airlines Association, AFRAA, who pointed out following the update of the blacklist published in April 2011, which included all carriers certified in Mozambique, that some major European airlines, such as Air France, have worse safety records than some of the individual African airlines banned, including LAM Mozambique. The current EU blacklist has 284 airlines from 24 countries worldwide barred from flying into Europe. Of the 24 countries banned, 17 of them, or 70%, are from Africa – so about a third of all African countries are on the banned list. Top of the list is the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 36 carriers listed, Sudan has 14 listed, and Mozambique and Angola have 13 carriers each in the list. A spokesman from AFRAA said in April 2011:

Irrespective of what the European Commission public relations exercise of attempting to pass blanket banning off as a solution to safety is, it amounts to no more than a blunt instrument that constrains the development of a viable air transport industry in Africa. While the net losers are African carriers, the net beneficiaries are always the EU community carriers that swiftly step in to fill the vacuum and take the market share of banned airlines

AFRAA point to the fact that if the airspace of an African country is declared unsafe, because of safety oversight deficiencies, it is also unsafe to European carriers.

Many commentators are perplexed as to why no African country has ever been removed from the EU blacklist, notwithstanding a general improvement in safety on the continent, and the fact that a number of countries on the blacklist have rectified several safety deficiencies through ICAO audits. The Secretary General of AFRAA, Dr Elijah Chingosho, published a paper called “EU Operational Ban of African carriers” on 17 July 2012, in which he criticises the anomalous and unfair treatment of African airlines, and points out that with 130 airlines on the EU blacklist, the perception is created among potential customers, particularly from EU countries, that all African airlines are unsafe. He points out that travel agents are advising customers against flying with African airlines, which puts the world class African airlines at a competitive disadvantage compared to their European counterparts, and calls for a different approach through the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa (called the AFI Plan).

At an Aviation Safety Summit held in Johannesburg in May 2012 convened by IATA and ICAO, at which all African airlines were represented, an AFI Strategic Improvement Plan was agreed, with the objective of ensuring that all African countries and airlines are removed from the blacklist by 2015. The AFI Plan is based on key priorities including:

  •  the adoption and implementation of an effective and transparent regulatory oversight system, including mandating the implementation of the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA)
  •  implementation of runway safety measures
  •  training on preventing loss of control
  •  implementation of Flight Data Analysis (FDA)
  •  implementation of Safety Management Systems (SMS).

The Plan was endorsed as part of the ‘Abuja Declaration’ by the Ministerial meeting of the African Union on Aviation Safety and Security in July 2012, and will be ratified at the African Union Assembly in 2013.

IATA is committed to the AFI Plan, and at an IATA conference in Dakar, Senegal in September, Tony Tyler reiterated the commitment to improving safety in African aviation:

“African aviation supports 6.7 million high quality jobs and business activity totalling some US$67.8 billion. Aviation could play an even bigger role in facilitating Africa’s growth and development. To achieve this, however, we need a team effort of government and industry focused on improving safety, adopting a co-ordinated policy approach and implementing global standards.”

In the meantime, AFRAA is calling on African governments, the African Union and the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFAC) to take firm and decisive action on the growing number of African countries on the EU blacklist of airlines, and engage with the European Commission in a consensual dialogue aimed at establishing mutually agreed criteria for improving safety on the African continent.