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Opinion: Regulators Should Focus On Facts And Cooperation

ARSA rejects EASA claims about shortcomings in U.S. oversight process.

All aviation safety regulators live in glass houses when it comes to aviation safety and the potential for—and inevitability of—deadly accidents. In comments before the European Parliament’s transport committee meeting on Sept. 3, European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Executive Director Patrick Ky seems to have tried to shatter the FAA’s.

Instead of expressing solidarity and faith in the mutual recognition achieved through bilateral aviation safety agreement processes, EASA’s leader took the opposite approach. According to media reports, during an “exchange of views” with committee members about the recent Boeing 737 MAX accidents and subsequent aircraft grounding, Ky asserted: “The FAA is in a very difficult situation. . . . When they will say, this [airplane] is good to go, it’s very likely that international authorities will want a second opinion, or a third opinion. That was not the case one year ago. . . . I think that’s going to be a very strong change in the overall worldwide hierarchy or relationship between the different authorities.”

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Ky’s assertion that a similar problem in the certification of an aviation product “would not happen in [EASA’s] system,” suggests a rather smug sense of undeserved self-satisfaction.

The FAA’s systems are different, but the goals and results are the same. European regulators are good but aren’t any better than their U.S. counterparts at identifying potential safety issues. The simple fact is that every airworthiness directive issued by EASA (or any other regulator) reflects a safety problem that can or did lead to unfortunate results.

Print Headline: EASA Promotes The Great Divide

We reject Ky’s implication that oversight has different meanings in Europe than in the U.S., that the FAA might decide to let an unsafe aircraft fly, and in that case, like knights on a white horse, European regulators would ride in to save the day. Those notions are contrary to the facts and the very principles underpinning the global aviation regulatory framework.

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For bilateral aviation safety agreements to function, and for their benefits and efficiencies to be realized, regulators must be confident in one another’s work. Throwing the FAA under the bus only serves to diminish public confidence and create unrealistic expectations about Europe’s oversight regime, undermining the system of global regulatory cooperation.

The bottom line is that collaborative oversight and mutual recognition require acknowledgment that the regulator cannot and does not prevent mistakes or accidents. Regulators can only ensure that applicants and certificate holders meet established standards and are held accountable when things go awry. Creating unrealistic expectations about the superiority of EASA’s capabilities and processes will almost certainly backfire when problems with Europe’s certification processes come to light in the wake of a future accident.

Instead, let’s focus on what the aviation industry does best.

Let’s follow the facts, analyze them dispassionately, learn from mistakes, and collectively improve our systems and processes.

Let’s leave demagoguing and finger-pointing to the politicians.

Let’s recommit ourselves to working together on a global basis to ensure that commercial aviation continues to be the safest form of transportation on the planet. 

Sarah MacLeod is managing member of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein and a founder and executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.

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