The aviation safety authorities of the European Union recently updated their list of banned airlines (sometimes referred to as an airline blacklist). Their list includes airlines that are completely banned from operating in Europe, and others which are restricted to operating in Europe under specific conditions.
Keep in mind that not all aircraft are inspected by the member states of the European Union, and that means that just because an airline isn't on the list doesn't mean that it meets EU safety standards. The most recent list is available at AirSafe.com (see resources section).
What Airlines Are on the EU List?
Most of the banned airlines are small, based in Africa, Asia, or the middle east, and are hardly household names. These include airlines like Air Koryo of North Korea, and all airlines operating from Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and 12 other countries. Other airlines, like Air Bangladesh, can operate in Europe, but only by leasing an aircraft from a certified air carrier.
FAA Approach to Banning Airlines
In contrast to the EU, the FAA's FAA's International Aviation Safety Assessments (IASA) Program does not ban individual airlines, but divides countries into two groups, those that have the ability to oversee airlines to ensure that they meet minimum international safety standards and those that do not. Airlines from countries that don't meet standards would not be allowed to start US service, and those that already have US service may not be able to change their level of service.
What Countries Are on the US List?
In the most recently available list from December 2008, a few of the countries identified as not meeting international standards included Bangladesh, Israel, Indonesia, and the Philippines. All of these countries had at least one airline that served the US. Most of the other countries in this second category had no airline serving the US at the time of the survey.
What These Lists Don't Cover
The short story is that these two programs only cover international flights. What happens within a country is under the control of that country's government. For some countries like the US, Japan, Australia, and the countries of the European Union, the standards are as high or higher than international standards. For other countries, the standards can be much lower.
Should You Avoid These Airlines or These Countries?
These lists from the EU and the FAA don't say that flying on an airliner from a particular country is unsafe or recommend particular airlines to avoid. The final decision to take any trip will be based on many factors, and these lists may be help an individual passenger decide.
AirSafe.com founder Todd Curtis has discussed decision making about risks extensively over the years, and the following is from an article he wrote in 1997:
(W)hen I make a decision on whether to take a particular flight or use a particular airline, I don't make my decision based solely on the fatal event rate or any other single measure. I do so by first taking into account a wide range of information and then by considering the following questions:
- Would I allow my minor child to fly unaccompanied?
- Would I allow my minor child to fly with an adult?
- Would I allow an adult family member to fly?
- Would I allow myself to fly?
- Would I allow myself to fly only under special circumstances?
- Would I allow someone I know on the flight?
- Would I allow someone I did not know on the flight?
My personal interpretation of the level of safety of a particular flight or airline would depend on how I answered the question. For example, if I answered the first question yes, then all the other questions below it would also be yes. This is neither a comprehensive set of questions or a set of questions which can deal with everyone's safety issues. This is merely my personal scale for rating the safety of an airline or an airline flight (I'll call it the Curtis Criteria). This method may not work for many people, but it works well for me.
European Commission List of Banned Airlines (updated 26 November 2009)
European Commission Press Release (27 November 2009)
IASA Program Results (updated 18 December 2008)
Airline Safety Survey
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