African Airlines Angry over EU Ban: Every March since 2006 the European Union Has Issued a List of Airlines Banned from Its Airspace. This Year the List Affected a Whopping 111 African Airlines, Some of Whom Exist Only on Paper, and Caused Huge Alarm in the Corridors of the Nairobi-Based African Airlines Association (AFRAA). Wanjohi Kabukuru Went to AFRAA Headquarters to Find out Why the EU Has Been So Draconian

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THE EUROPEAN UNION'S "BANNED Airlines List" issued on 30 March 2010 restricted airlines from other continents (mostly Africa) from entering European airspace. The "newly updated list" (which was made to appear global) affected mainly 17 countries, 13 of which are African; with a collective airline total of III.

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The unprecedented tally was drawn from airlines in Angola, Gabon, Benin, DRCongo, Rwanda, Congo-Brazzaville, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Zambia, Swaziland, and Comoros. As expected, Africa did not take kindly to this. The continent's umbrella airlines body, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), sees the EU list as giving an unfair business advantage to EU airlines rather than being influenced by safety concerns.

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"Air safety is AFRAA's number one priority and we are the first to admit that Africa needs to improve its air safety record," said Nick Fadugba, secretary general of AFRAA. "However, while the EU list may be well-intended, its main achievement has been to undermine international confidence in the African airline industry.

"The ultimate beneficiaries of the ban are European airlines which dominate the African skies to the disadvantage of African carriers. If any list is to be published, it should be done by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the global regulator of aviation safety, which has a known track record of impartiality," added Fadugba.

Based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, AFRAA represents 41 member airlines from 33 of Africa's 53 nations. And it is mincing no words in what it sees as unwarranted business hostility from the EU.

"When we did our investigation on the EU list, we concluded that the intention of the EU was not driven by safety as such but it is purely business. The agenda of this list is mischievous to say the least as it is intended to imply that both African airlines and skies are unsafe," Raphael Kuuchi, AFRAA's commercial director, contended in a no-holds-barred interview with New African.

"If their intention is not mischievous, why else would more and more EU airlines increase their traffic into Africa?" Kuuchi asked. "This list is driven by fear of competition and protectionism rather than fair play and open competition," Kuuchi, who hails from Ghana, noted. According to him, 90% of the airlines on the EU list are classified as "paper airlines", which though registered in some African countries, do not operate at all.

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"When they first issued this list of infamy in 2006, we complained that they were using unusual business tactics to soil the reputations of credible African airlines which compete with the best in the world," Kuuchi continued. "The EU blacklist is a major setback to the intercontinental carriers of Africa who meet international safety standards. The basis of the list is uncertain, it lacks transparency, and there is no clear process of getting off it. Several years after the initial blacklist was published, the majority of countries and airlines that were originally included continue to be on it."

The European Commission vice-president, Siim Kallas, who is in charge of transport, has defended the controversial list: "Safety comes first," he said. "We are ready to support countries that need to build up technical and administrative capacity to guarantee the necessary standards in civil aviation. But we cannot accept that airlines fly into the EU if they do not fully comply with international safety standards."

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This is however disputed by Kuuchi. In what he terms as a "three-point plan", Kuuchi explains why the EU has got it all wrong. "If the EU is truly concerned about safety, they should allow this list to be issued by the global aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and not a regional body. …