Safety oversight: Is anybody out there?

What happens when you combine:

+ A small/mid-size European airline operating in one country while having an Air Operations Certificate (AOC) in a different country
+ Track record of serious safety incidents and aircraft in poor technical conditions
+ Chronic lack of adequate safety management within this company
+ A civil aviation authority which lacks resources, know-how and experience
+ A second civil aviation authority which acts, but declines to take over the oversight

The short answer is: nothing good !

Today, ECA alerted the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) about the blatant safety deficiencies of AVIES AS – an Estonian company – and the inability of aviation authorities to perform safety oversight of its remote operations in neighbouring Sweden. 

Safety OversightThe facts: AVIES AS has a peculiar company set-up. It has most of its operations in Sweden while having an Estonian AOC. The flying it carries out in Sweden is done as sub-leasing for ‘Avies i Sverige AB’ – a small company registered in Sweden (2 employees), having no operating license but having been awarded a Swedish ‘Public Service Obligation’ contract, and being actually owned by the Accountable Manager of AVIES AS in Estonia. According to information available to ECA, the flight crews seem to be hired on temporary contracts and have a multitude of different national backgrounds.

AVIES AS is also a company known to have continuous and repeated serious safety problems. After several occurrences in 2012, the company had a runway excursion in Feb. 2013 (which had not been reported and only became known 50 days later) and a temporary loss of power on both engines during climb, in May 2013. In January 2014, another runway overrun occurred in Sweden, with the investigation still ongoing. In October, the Swedish Transport Agency (STA) revoked the Airworthiness Review Certificate of a Swedish registered aircraft operated by AVIES AS, after an inspection revealed that the aircraft was in such poor technical condition  that safe operations could not be guaranteed.

The fact that for several years AVIES AS has been allowed to operate in such a manner demonstrates a manifest lack of effective safety oversight by the Estonian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA). It is only after mounting concerns voiced by the Swedish authorities that the ECAA finally recognized their inability of overseeing AVIES AS operations and suggested to the STA a transfer of oversight responsibility. STA declined to accept such a transfer, but offered e.g. assistance with personnel to help Estonia to inspect/oversee the operations in Sweden.

This case is a telling example of how safety oversight in Europe can fail – and does already fail today. With more and more airlines gravitating towards such business models, involving remote operations, complex, transnational set-ups and “atypical” forms of flight crew employment, safety oversight becomes even more complicated. The safety implications are already tangible. The ball is now in the hand of Europe’s authorities to plug the safety loopholes that are starting to open in different  parts of Europe.  

Read more about safety legislation & oversight: Civil Aviation Legislation & Oversight: Can it guarantee safety?