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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 09:36 GMT
EU unveils plane 'blacklist' deal
Flowers left at sea
Passengers on the downed Flash plane did not know its safety record
The European Union has reached a deal which will allow the creation of EU-wide 'blacklists' of unsafe airlines.

The issue has been under scrutiny since a Flash Airlines plane banned in Switzerland crashed into the Red Sea on 3 January, killing 148 people.

The EU deal was unveiled at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday, where it was billed as a major step forward in safety.

The EU will be able to name and ban airlines causing concern.

An initial report is expected to be compiled by the end of this year, using information from member states.

The deal between the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and members of the European parliament was finalised in Brussels on Tuesday.

It needs the final approval of MEPs in February or March, but that is not expected to present any obstacle.

It's very sad to see that the council (European ministers) and the commission were only prepared to act when those disasters forced them to act
Nelly Maes
MEP Nelly Maes, the European parliament's rapporteur on the safety of foreign planes, welcomed the move but attacked the EU for waiting for a tragedy before acting.

"The Flash accident will mean huge progress in the field of air safety as the Prestige (sunken oil tanker) did in the field of marine safety," she said.

"It's very sad to see that the council (European ministers) and the commission were only prepared to act when those disasters forced them to act."

Egyptian tragedy

Most of the 148 people who died in the Flash air crash were French tourists returning from a holiday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

They were flying with the company unaware that Switzerland had banned the aircraft on safety grounds in 2002. The information was made public only after the crash.

Flash Airlines plane which crashed
Flash was one of six firms which had planes banned in Europe in 2002
The crash is believed to have been caused by a technical fault, although analysis of the "black box" flight recorders is still under way.

Under the new regulations, any EU country which finds a plane or company so dangerous it deserves to be banned will be able to alert the European Commission.

If the commission recommends an EU-wide ban to the council of ministers, it is believed the airline's name would be made public at this stage, even if no ban was agreed.

The European transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio recently told MEPs she supported EU-wide bans and wanted holidaymakers to know which charter company they were scheduled to fly with.

A BBC News Online investigation has found that six airlines, including Flash, had aircraft grounded on safety grounds in one of three European countries in 2002 - and that two of them still fly to the UK. Their names are not known.

Conciliation

The only information available about bans imposed in 2003 comes from the UK Government, which banned three passenger airlines - from Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo - on safety grounds.

Another passenger airline from Bosnia had its permit temporarily withdrawn.

Flash has continued to insist that it was unfairly banned by the Swiss and its planes were not dangerous.

The safety deal was thrashed out in a "conciliation" process involving representatives of the parliament, the council of ministers and the commission.

The procedure is only used when the parliament and the council have failed to agree by other means.

MEPs had long been pressing for the results of checks on airlines to be made public, but ministers from EU member states did not immediately welcome the idea.


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