The European Community Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) programme began in 1996 as a voluntary ECAC programme. Its legal basis has been established by Directive 2004/36/CE of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 on the safety of third-country aircraft using Community airports (the so-called “SAFA Directive”) and complemented by Regulation (EC) No 2111/2005 on the establishment of a list of air carriers subject to an operating ban within the European Community. Under this legislation, international safety standards have been enforced within the European Community by means of ramp inspections (or “ramp checks”) on third-country aircraft landing at airports located in the EU Member States.
Significant increases in the volume of air travel have made it more of a burden for many States to oversee their airlines in compliance with ICAO requirements under the Chicago Convention. To maintain confidence in the system, and to protect the interest of the European citizens who may be living in the vicinity of airports or travelling onboard a third-country aircraft, the EU identified the need to effectively enforce international safety standards within the Community. This is done through the execution of ramp inspections on third-country aircraft landing at the airports located in the Member States. The official definition of ‘third-country aircraft' is an aircraft which is not used or operated under the control of a competent authority of a Community Member State.
The SAFA Directive provides a legal requirement for EU Member States to perform inspections, including ramp checks and, as such, participate in the EC SAFA programme. The “Regulation (EC) No 2111/2005 on the establishment of a Community list of air carriers subject to an operating ban within the Community and on informing air transport passengers of the identity of the operating air carrier” provides the mechanism and the criteria for the establishment of the list of airlines to be banned from European airspace for safety reasons. Commission Regulation (EC) No 473/2006 of 22 March 2006 lays down implementing rules for the establishment of the Community list, called also the “Blacklist”.
Ramp Checks in Practice
Oversight authorities of the Member States engaged in the SAFA Programme choose which aircraft to inspect. Some authorities carry out random inspections while others try to target aircraft or airlines that they suspect may not comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards. In either case, only a very small proportion of third country aircraft operating into each State are inspected.
Depending on the volume of third-country flights and the availability of inspectors in each Member State, the number of inspections may vary from relatively few to several hundred each year. Checks may include:
- licences of the pilots;
- procedures and manuals that should be carried in the cockpit;
- compliance with these procedures by flight and cabin crew;
- safety equipment in cockpit and cabin;
- cargo carried in the aircraft; and
- the technical condition of the aircraft.
A checklist of 54 inspection items is used during a SAFA Ramp Check. As the time between arrival and departure (the turn-around time) may not be sufficient to go through the full checklist, not all 54 items may be inspected. It is SAFA policy not to delay an aircraft except for safety reasons.
Commission Regulation (EC) No 351/2008 of 16 April 2008 implementing Directive 2004/36/EC addresses the prioritisation of ramp inspections on aircraft using Community airports, and requires States to prioritise their ramp inspections on the following subjects (operators and/or aircraft) landing at any of their airports open to international air traffic:
- Subjects identified as posing a potential safety threat on the basis of the regular analyses conducted by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
- Subjects identified on the basis of an opinion expressed by the Air Safety Committee within the context of the implementation of Regulation (EC) No 2111/2005 of the European Parliament and the Council (the Community list) that further verification of effective compliance with relevant safety standards through systematic ramp inspections on those subjects is necessary. This may include subjects which have been withdrawn from the list of air carriers subject to an operating ban within the Community established by Regulation (EC) No 2111/2005.
- Subjects identified on the basis of information obtained by the European Commission from the Member States or EASA pursuant to Article 4(3) of Regulation (EC) No 2111/2005.
- Aircraft operated into the Community by operators included in Annex B of the Community list.
- Aircraft operated by other operators certified in the same State as any operator featuring concurrently on the Community list.
Ramp Check Results
Any major findings will immediately be communicated to all concerned parties. In cases of more serious findings, the oversight authority of the Member State that performed the ramp check will contact its counterpart in the State responsible for the airline, passing on its findings and asking for any necessary corrective actions. The oversight authority will also inform the aircraft's captain and the headquarters of the airline.
When findings directly affect the safety of the aircraft, its crew and passengers, the Authority of the State of inspection may request immediate corrective action before the aircraft can take off. If rectification of the deficiencies requires more time or needs to be performed at another airport, the Authority of the State of inspection may, in coordination with the State responsible for the operation of the aircraft concerned or the State of registration of the aircraft, decide to authorise a positioning flight (a flight to a specific destination without passengers or cargo onboard) and also prescribe the necessary conditions under which the aircraft can be allowed to fly to that specific airport.
In general all inspection results need to be communicated by the State which performed the inspections to the other EU Member States and to the European Commission.
Whenever an inspection shows the existence of a potential safety threat, or shows that an aircraft does not comply with international safety standards and may pose a potential safety threat, the inspection report will be communicated without delay to each EU Member State and to the European Commission. In accordance with Regulation 2111/2005 and based upon various other sources of information, the European Commission may decide upon an operating ban in the Community.
The Commission Regulation (EC) 768/2006 puts an obligation on EASA to prepare for the Commission on a yearly basis a proposal for a public aggregated information report regarding the information collected from the Member States in accordance with the Directive 2004/36/EC. The aggregated report is published by the European Commission in all European languages.