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Establishing an Aviation Safety Management System for Europe

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Establishing an Aviation Safety Management System for Europe

To maintain the current low level of air accident fatalities, the European Union (EU) must ensure that the rate of air accidents continues to decline in order to match the continued growth in the number of flights. The Commission believes that it is necessary to move from reaction to prevention by adopting a pro-active approach to aviation safety. This communication, therefore, sets out specific actions that are needed to ensure aviation safety in the EU.


Communication from the Commission of 25 October 2011 to the Council and the European Parliament: Setting up an Aviation Safety Management System for Europe [COM (2011) 670 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


The current system for ensuring aviation safety in the European Union (EU) is predominantly based on a set of rules, overseen by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and National Aviation Authorities (NAA). These rules have evolved over many years of experience and have delivered a very good safety record for aviation in Europe. However, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has recognised that as the aviation system becomes more complex and more is understood about the limitations of human performance and the impact of organisational processes, simple regulation is no longer sufficient. It is necessary to evolve from a reactive system where regulations are changed as a result of experience towards a pro-active system which attempts to anticipate potential safety risks in order to reduce the likelihood of an accident. The ICAO therefore introduced the need for a safety management system.

A safety management system is a pro-active system that identifies the hazards to the activity, assesses the risks those hazards present, and takes action to reduce those risks to an acceptable level. It then checks to confirm the effectiveness of the actions and works continuously to ensure any new hazards or risks are quickly identified and mitigated. The EU safety management system will support the efforts of the EU countries and not replace them. It will depend on the assistance, cooperation and contributions of the EU countries and the EU aviation industry.

The first activity of a safety management system is identifying the safety hazards to aviation. Although the EU has access to the necessary sources of information to identify hazards, the area of occurrence reporting needs improving. The inadequacies of the current occurrence reporting system include low quality of information, incomplete data, insufficient clarity in reporting obligations and in the flow of information, and legal and organisation obstacles to ensuring adequate access to the European Central Repository information to enable information sharing. The Commission will therefore propose an update to the EU system on occurrence reporting in civil aviation by revising Directive 2003/42/EC.

In the current system of safety data analysis, EASA, Eurocontrol and some EU countries do their own analysis. There is therefore potential for duplication of effort which can hide a significant safety issue. An occurrence that appears to be a ‘one off’ in one EU country can in fact point to a need for action when looked at across the EU as a whole. This issue is recognised in Regulation (EU) No 996/2010 which requires EASA and the competent national authorities to collaborate in the regular exchange and analysis of information. The framework and tools required to realise this, however, have yet to be developed. The Commission will therefore propose to further develop safety analysis at EU level.

The lack of a universally accepted risk assessment methodology in common use across the EU means that EU countries are individually carrying out safety risk assessments and taking action on their own findings. Such a process could instead be conducted at EU level using analysis by EASA, the EU countries, the Network of Analysts, and from the aviation industry in order to determine where best to direct efforts at this or other problems. The Commission will therefore examine whether it is appropriate to propose the creation of a common risk assessment classification. Similarly, to benefit from a more coordinated approach to addressing safety issues already identified, the Commission will use the EASA Committee as the principal forum for enabling full discussions with EU countries on actions to be taken.

Considering the technical nature of the safety issues, EASA should be responsible for providing its view to the Commission on the best course of action to mitigate the risks, on the timescales for such actions, and on the measurement of success. This plan of action should include input from all stakeholders, including the aviation industry, and be known as the European Aviation Safety Plan. To keep EU citizens up-to-date, EASA will publish annual updates to the European Aviation Safety Plan detailing progress made in addressing identified safety risks at EU level.

Aviation safety issues are not restricted to the EU. The EU therefore already has in place many arrangements to facilitate cooperation between the EU and its neighbours on aviation matters, including the European Common Aviation Area with a number of Balkan states and the Euro-Mediterranean Common Aviation Area. The Commission, alongside EASA, will continue to share the work of the safety management system and encourage mutual cooperation with the EU’s neighbours on the identification of safety issues.

Last updated: 27.01.2012