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Remember the financial industry crisis in 2008? Now imagine the same principles of light touch-, self-regulation and limited oversight are applied to air travel. The consequences would be alarming.

Today already, a combination of economic pressure and an aviation system that grows in traffic and in complexity is pushing the airlines to cut costs, reduce safety margins and push the regulations to their limits. Airlines flying strictly to what the law says is safe are no longer an exception. In 2012, several emergency landings due to low fuel and bad weather conditions, illustrated that only complying with the minimum safety standards might be enough for the unthinkable to happen.

(In)adequate regulation

And laws – when they exist – are often a near-image of an industry wish list. They are often based on biased data, and false assumptions that the market will regulate itself or that the legislator will at a later stage correct any deficienciesEven if the laws are adequately drafted, their scope is often limited, while equally important issues, such as company or safety culture, incident reporting or data handling remain beneath the regulatory surface.

Safety Oversight

Crucially, laws are not only for the regulators to adopt but also for the industry to comply with. Yet, Europe’s aviation safety authorities are struggling to oversee operations in an increasingly complex environment – e.g. airlines based in one country, hiring crews from a second one and planes from a third one. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)  plays an important role, but its existence has often been used to justify shrinking resources of national aviation authorities while they do remain essential for regulatory oversight.

EASA itself is victim of cost cutting while its responsibilities are extending.

As a result, Europe could soon face the emergence of de facto under-regulated and insufficiently overseen operators and countries.

These trends can only be countered by strengthening the EU’s air safety legislation in the first place, and by providing effective safety oversight (by skilled safety inspectors) and by a well-resourced EASA. The EU must set high safety standards, enforce them and act decisively to ensure the safety of Europe’s passengers.

What can be done!

  •  Strengthen EU air safety legislation to guarantee passenger safety.
  •  Fix broken safety oversight at national and European level.
  •  Strengthen EU’s Aviation Safety Agency EASA.


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