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Sky-High Standards

2 minute read
Sally B. Donnelly and Tim Padgett

Transport officials at the European Union are so worked up over recent plane crashes in Greece and Venezuela, which killed 281 people, that they are considering drafting a blacklist for airlines–mostly in Africa and South America–that fail to meet standards set by such groups as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a Montreal-based U.N. agency. U.S. officials and industry sources think that an airline blacklist would create unneeded stigmas. Instead, the Federal Aviation Administration monitors air-safety systems by country and restricts flights to the U.S. from 26 nations that fall short of ICAO standards. Says a government source: “There are already strong incentives to play by international safety rules.” One of them is fines. Last year Colombia fined West Caribbean Airways, whose plane crashed in Venezuela last week after both engines failed, for a litany of safety violations.

U.S. air-safety experts are worried, however, about apparently subpar investigations into the crashes. American aviation sources say investigators in Cyprus–home to Helios Airways, whose Boeing 737 crashed near Athens–are sharing almost no reliable information with the public. And Venezuela’s anti-U.S. stance is keeping investigators for the plane manufacturer from looking into why the West Caribbean McDonnell Douglas MD-82 went down en route from Panama to Martinique. Cuban officials have been asked to join the probe instead, but aviation experts say full information sharing is necessary to ensure global air safety.

Eerie accounts from Greek fighter pilots of a co-pilot slumped over the Helios 737’s controls before that crash have experts asking if the oxygen tanks provided for decompression emergencies were not filled–the kind of maintenance mistake that stricter oversight might help prevent. The solution, says aviation analyst John Nance, is “total standardization now–and more intolerance of those countries that fail to comply with it.” –By Tim Padgett and Sally B. Donnelly

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