A series of airplane crashes has spurred European countries to ban airlines deemed unsafe, although drawing up an EU-wide list of trouble-plagued carriers -- as the EU's executive commission wants -- is proving elusive.
The crash of a Helios plane helped spur on the blacklist plan
The list of airlines banned from flying in the European Union due to poor safety records could be made available to passengers within six months. EU member states will draw up individual lists and the European Commission will combine them.
"We hope the list will be adopted very soon, late this year or early next year," European Commission spokesman Rupert Krietemeyer said at a briefing.
The idea is to prevent an airline that has been banned in one state on safety concerns from doing business in another.
France and Belgium have taken the lead in the 25-nation EU, announcing plans to name-and-shame carriers from Monday that do not respect safety regulations.
On Thursday, French Transport Minister Dominique Perben said that, from Monday, a list of both banned and authorized companies would appear on the French civil aviation authority's Web site "in a way that is totally transparent."
The Belgian transport ministry followed suit and said it too would publish a list on Monday.
"We don't want to wait for the future European blacklist," a spokeswoman for Belgian transport minister Renaat Landuyt said.
Previously, only Britain, Switzerland and the United States prepared lists either of suspect companies or of countries in which civil aviation regulations were deemed inadequate.
Also taking the cue from France, Switzerland said Thursday that it would publish its list.
But not all member states want to take such an approach to airline safety. Italy, for example, prefers to draw up a list naming companies deemed to be safe.
"In our country, if a company does not meet safety norms, it does not fly. That's why there's no need for a blacklist, that is, a list of companies that aren't viable," Transport Minister Pietro Lunardi said in newspaper interviews printed Friday in La Stampa and La Repubblica.
However, an EU official pointed out that there would be a "heavy responsibility" to assume if an airplane from a carrier on the Italian list crashed.
"The blacklist does not say that with other companies an accident can't happen but that with those on the list, you are taking a risk," the official said.
Although the EU's 25 member states agreed in April to the idea of eventually publishing the names of banned airlines, they disagree on what criteria to use for drawing up such a list.
Undated picture of the airplane of the Colombian airline West Caribbean Airways that crashed in the mountains of western Venezuela on Aug. 16, 2005.
"We have to set common criteria at the European level," lamented an official at the commission. So far Belgium, France, Germany and Spain have spearheaded the move to bring in an EU-wide list of suspect carriers.
The European Commission hopes that the backing from the European Parliament will focus minds on compiling such a list. One idea under consideration would consolidate lists in each member state and apply the result across the bloc.
In the long run, the commission would like to be able to impose bans EU-wide, even though member states denied the EU executive such authority in early 2004.
In January 2004, the crash in Egypt of a Flash Airlines' Boeing airliner, which killed 148 people, spurred the EU into action after years of negotiations and led to a reinforcement of safety checks on non-EU airplanes at airports in member states.
The transport commissioner at the time, Loyola de Palacio, was quick to say that the accident probably would never have happened had the rules been in place.