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The European Aviation Safety Policy

Backing aviation growth by a high level of safety

Flying is one of the safest forms of transport. It is also the fastest growing. Faced with the explosion of the air traffic and a huge number of carriers resulting from the successful implementation of the single aviation market, the European Union (EU) has decided to seize the initiative, to ensure that all European citizens can enjoy the same level of safety in the sky.

Beyond ensuring a high level of safety for the passengers, the EU air safety policy promotes rules that are cost efficient and facilitate the free movement of products, services and persons involved in civil aviation.

Main pillars of the European Aviation Safety Policy

In the EU, the aviation safety system is based on a close collaboration between the European Commission, the European Aviation Safety Agency , Eurocontrol , national civil aviation authorities and safety investigation authorities of the Member States, as well as the aircraft manufacturers, airlines and other undertakings participating in the single aviation market.

The backbone of this system is constituted by a set of common safety rules which are directly applicable in a uniform manner across the EU. These common safety rules, which apply both to the industry as well as to the civil aviation authorities, constitute the basis of the initial approval and continuing oversight of all undertakings engaged in aviation activities in the internal market.

In addition, any aircraft, European or not, may be subject to safety inspections at the European airports. Such ramp checks are done on a random basis but with particular attention to companies which have previously shown safety deficiencies. A series of safety breaches identified during such inspections can subsequently lead to restricting or, in the worst cases, banning the operation of the non-compliant air carriers from flying to Europe. Similarly, the European Commission regularly monitors the safety performance of air carriers around the world and informs the European citizens about any potential safety risks.

There is no such thing as "zero risk" in aviation and accidents may happen from time to time, especially with an ever growing traffic. Although the European policy is to do everything possible to increase the safety of air transport, whenever incidents or accidents happen, it is necessary to launch investigations into their causes in order to learn safety lessons and prevent such dramatic occurrences from happing again.

Aviation accidents rarely result from a single failure but rather from a combination of events. The EU takes a system wide approach to prevention of aviation accidents through implementation of occurrence reporting systems, which allow to collect, store and disseminate information about errors and other irregular circumstances, which if not corrected may lead to an accident.

A new element to aviation safety is now being added to those described above which introduces a pro-active, evidence-based, component to aviation safety activities at EU level. This component seeks to improve EU-wide safety performance by identifying the main risks to aviation safety and taking action to address those risks in a coordinated fashion. The means of achieving this, together with the associated problems to be overcome, were spelt out in a Communication from the Commission . The Communication was also the vehicle to publish the first European Aviation Safety Programme (EASP) which conforms to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) format for a State Safety Programme (SSP). The EASP augments and compliments the SSPs of the Member States.

Safety in civil aviation is significantly influenced by the inherently international nature of this industry. International co-operation is thus essential to ensure network safety and development of coordinated policies and globally agreed standards. The EU is actively engaged in strengthening aviation safety at the international level, notably through a regular dialogue with the ICAO , technical cooperation projects with third countries and conclusion of comprehensive safety agreements with key partners in Europe and beyond .

Results

The statistics show that despite the increase in traffic and the complexity of the single aviation market, since its creation in 1992, the European Union has succeeded in maintaining a high level of aviation safety to the benefit of the travelling public (EASA Annual Safety Review ).

Safety however can never be taken for granted and constant effort is needed to maintain its high level in the changing operational and economic context of the global air transport industry. In this respect the remit of Community legislation was extended in 2008 to crew licensing and aircraft operations (of both Community and third country operators). In 2009, it was further extended to safety aspects of aerodrome operations as well as the provision of air navigation services and air traffic management. The Commission, with the assistance of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), will by 2013 adopt a set of implementing rules to complement the essential requirements adopted by the legislator in these new domains.