Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Eurozone Blacklist and its Damaging Effect on Africa’s Aviation Industry

The blacklist is officially known as the European Safety List, which is administered by case handlers within the aviation safety unit of the European Union’s (EU) Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport. The first version of the list was published in 2006. The most recent version of the list was published earlier this year. The European Commission and EU Member States set up and regularly update the EC blacklist through the Air Safety Committee, which meets roughly three times a year. In turn, it is the responsibility of the Member States to enforce the blacklist established via an EC regulation. Airlines included in the EU blacklist are not allowed to operate with their aircrafts or personnel in the EU, or to enter the airspace of any EU Member State.

The EU blacklist features 91 airlines from Africa, all of which are currently banned from flying into Europe. Out of the 20 countries worldwide with airlines on the banned list, 13 of them – or more than 65Pct – are in Africa. These are airlines that have been identified by the civil aviation authorities of member states of the European community as failing to meet applicable safety standards.  Currently, very few African carriers have been removed from the list even though The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has witnessed general improvement of aviation safety on the continent. For instance, the region’s accident rate for all aircraft types improved nearly 50%. Between 2010 and 2013, the accident rate for Africa has fallen by 45% – from 16.8 accidents per million departures to 9.3 – while the number of fatal accidents over this period dropped from three to one per year.

Impact of banned list on the African airline industry

The EU practice of blacklisting is very damaging to the entire African aviation industry, not just for those countries that are featured on the list. Furthermore, it’s crippling Afrcan economies; since surface transport systems (road, rail, water transport) on the continent are underdeveloped, often air transport is the only viable form of transport within many countries (such as the DRC and Sudan) as well as connecting African states to one another.

Think about it: what will a potential customer think when he or she hears that 91 airlines from Africa are banned from flying to Europe because of stricter-than-normal standards? A reasonable person could assume that it might effect an airline’s overall business capacity, not just the business they’ve lost from not flying to Europe. The perception created among potential customers, particularly from EU countries, is that all African airlines are unsafe, this puts world class African airlines at a competitive disadvantage compared to their European counterparts, resulting in a domination of European carriers in the intercontinental traffic between Africa and Europe. For example, Air France and KLM have a virtual monopoly on francophone West and Central Africa intercontinental traffic, which may have to do in part from this ban.

The banning of an airline not only prohibits the airline from operating to the EU but also impacts its ticket sales to other destinations, including on code shared routes as travel agents and other code share partners in EU are required by regulations at the time of sale or booking to notify passengers that the airline is blacklisted. This goes beyond prohibition because it also affects the airlines’ operations to other non-Europe destinations, by diminishing the ticket sales of the airlines and limiting their cooperation, which leads to partners withdrawing their tickets. This makes it difficult for many African airlines to develop code sharing, interlines and other business arrangements.

Recent data from the Ministers of Tourism and Air Transport of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Liberia reveals that their tourism sectors are showing adverse affects of the blacklisting of the aviation sector by the EU. Tourist arrival has fallen more than expected for trekking and tours. The tourists have now started to cancel booking for places where one has to fly, and are now looking for places one can drive to. 

Big insurance companies in Europe have stopped insuring tourists for using the banned airlines and are charging high premiums if they do. In addition, the bans also include cargo airlines, which restricts the ability to move goods, especially perishables that might form the basis of an export marketplace. 

When looking at these effects, it becomes evident that the ultimate beneficiaries of the ban are European airlines, which dominate the African skies by taking the market share of the banned airlines. Sadly, it has negative effects for African trade, tourism, and the local citizen’s ability to travel.

Current discussion on the blacklist from international organizations

The IATA, which represents about 240 airlines, officially opposes the EU’s blacklist policy. Tony Tyler, director general of IATA, warned that the EU’s disproportionate focus on Africa has led many observers to conclude that its blacklist “is a mercantile policy masquerading as a safety policy.” Tyler further complained “there is no transparency, no clarity on why some carriers are put on the list and no clear indication on what is required to get off the list and some aspects of how the list is administered are absolutely absurd.”

The African Airlines Association (AFRAA), based in Nairobi, Kenya, has also expressed concern about the European Union’s latest list of airlines banned from the European airspace due to safety concerns. “Air safety is AFRAA’s number one priority and we are the first to admit that Africa needs to improve its air safety record. However, while the EU list may be well-intended, its main achievement has been to undermine international confidence in the African airline industry,” says Mr. Nick Fadugba, Secretary General of AFRAA. He further stated that “if any list is to be published, it should be done so by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the global regulator of aviation safety, which has a known track record of impartiality.

Furthermore, The Association contends a very basic fact: that the reasons for putting an airline or a country on the banned list has to do with safety. For example, a country having international airports with inadequate search and rescue services, no proper security fencing, inadequate fire-fighting services or untrained fire fighters, then why do EU carriers fly to those airports? Surely if a country or destination is unsafe for African airlines, it is also unsafe for EU carriers. 

Instead, what we witness is that when the local carrier is banned, EU carriers increase frequencies to that destination to take over the market lost by the banned airline. This what AFFRA has pointed out for the past few years buts still an unanswered subject by the EU civil aviation authorities. 

Nessbeho Hailu

Nessbeho Hailu is a Guest Instructor at EAL Aviation Accademy and a Transport Agent at Bole International Airport.

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