The EU is planning to create a black list of unsafe airlines and better coordinate air safety policies after hundreds of people have died in air crashes over the past two months.
A European blacklist would make the skies safer
European Union aviation experts agreed on Wednesday in Brussels to back the EU Commission's proposal for creating a blacklist of unsafe airlines after a recent spate of fatal crashes.
The European Commission stressed that Europe is statistically one of the safest parts of the world for air travelers, but said more coordination was needed between aviation authorities in the 25-nation bloc.
"We are operating in a very safe environment, but of course the tragic accidents we've had have to give us a push to improve safety standards even further," said commission spokesman Stefaan De Rynck.
De Rynck said the talks between member states were "important" in helping decide what criteria should be used in drawing up the blacklist, as well as what the consequences of being on a banned list should be.
Trying to prevent more disasters like this one in Greece
"The European Union needs common criteria to identify unsafe airlines. Such airlines would be put on a European black list and be subject to an EU-wide ban to fly," said a commission statement.
The European parliament will take up the issue in November, and a meeting of European transportation ministers will be organized after that.
"The Commission hopes for a political agreement on the common criteria, the EU black list, and the EU-wide ban by the end of the year," it added.
The EU commission said the "incoherence" of current air safety regulations was highlighted in May when a Turkish airline, suspended by four European countries, simply redirected its flights to Belgium which had not imposed a similar ban.
"This is astonishing, and a little bit absurd," said the spokesman.
EU officials want all member states to follow the same rules
The European Union blacklist idea is similar to a mechanism already operational in the United States, where would-be passengers can consult a website publishing the names of airlines with relatively poor safety records. Similar backlists exist in France, Britain and Sweden.
Experts from 35 European countries called last month for the definition of common criteria to establish lists of airline companies to be blacklisted on safety grounds.
"It is essential to define common criteria," said Michel Wachenheim, head of the French civil aviation authority (DGAC), at a meeting of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC).
Cypriot airlines deny pilot language problems
The EU talks in Brussels came as the low-cost airline involved in a mysterious crash in Greece last month denied a report that below-par language skills and the inexperience of a pilot contributed to the accident.
Cyprus' Helios Airways said it was confident that the pilots of the doomed flight, which crashed on August 14 killing all 121 on board, were able to understand each other in English on the flight to Prague via Athens.
"I've spoken to both pilots and their English was of a good standard ... We employ pilots of the highest standards," said Helios spokesman Nicos Anastassiades.