Since 2007, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been in charge of the Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft program (SAFA), which began in 1996 under the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC).
A SAFA inspection consists of a ramp inspection during a turnround of an aircraft. It is based mainly on aircraft and crew documents or licenses, the condition of the aircraft and the presence and condition of mandatory cabin safety equipment.
Inspectors use a checklist comprising 54 items. If they find any deviation, they classify it in one of three categories of findings: cat 1 is minor, cat 2 means significant and cat 3 major.
The two last categories of findings are reported to the responsible Aviation Authority and the operator to prevent reoccurrence and in some rare cases, restriction of the aircraft operation can be taken, up to the grounding of the aircraft.
The EU commission has recently published the results for 2007: compared to 2006 and the previous years, it shows an increase of inspections (roughly 8,600 in 2007 compared to less than 5,500 in 2004), and a decrease in findings (about 12,000 in total for 2007, 500 less than in 2006).
Operators from the EU 27 states, ECAC and Oceania have fewer findings than the average.
The results are only giving a global overview as there is no breakdown inside the different world regions or between operators inspected. It is also positive to see that more action than ever before, have been taken according to cat 2 and 3 findings: i.e. 22 aircraft were grounded in 2007 following a SAFA inspection.
However for ECA, further efforts are needed to improve the quality of the SAFA programme:
- better standardisation to be delivered by EASA among the National Aviation Authorities (i.e. countries have very different rates of average findings per inspection).
- better trained and resourced NAA, especially in newer EU states.
- more intelligent, better targeted and risk based inspections carried out by properly trained inspectors.
On one very specific point, ECA has noticed there were a few inspections that were an unpleasant experience for the flight crews.
We encourage pilots to report their experience to ECA, so that we can determine whether these are just a few isolated cases or whether there is a particular country or airport, where unacceptable behaviour of inspectors is more widespread.
With safety oriented inspectors, flight crews represented in ECA are ready to play their part in future SAFA inspections.
It is European aviation safety that will finally benefit.