The European Union on Wednesday banned 92 airlines, most of them based in Africa, from landing at European airports, declaring them unsafe by international standards.
The ban applies to cargo and passenger carriers from Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Liberia judged to have an "inadequate system for regulatory oversight" or insufficient safety standards. It will be enforced by all 25 EU nations, plus Norway and Switzerland.
EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the EU was barring 50 carriers from Congo alone, 14 from Sierra Leone and seven from Swaziland, virtually ensuring that all airlines operating from those countries were prevented from flying to Europe.
He said some planes used for flights to Europe and possibly elsewhere were "flying coffins," adding that safety controls in the listed nations were too weak.
The EU moved to set up a single list after several fatal airline crashes in Greece and Italy last year and the fatal crash of Egypt's Flash Airlines in the Red Sea in June 2004, which killed 148 people, mostly French tourists.
The Egyptian airline was not on the EU list, as it had gone bankrupt, Barrot said.
Barrot said the high number of listed Congolese airlines was partly due to years of civil war, after which old military planes, many manufactured in the former Soviet Union, were converted for civilian and cargo use.
Only one airline from Congo, Hewa Bora Airways, is allowed to use one approved plane for its flights to the EU, while another African airline, Air Mauritania, was given a grace period of a couple of months to meet EU safety norms.
The flight ban also applies to Ariana Afghan Airlines, North Korea's Air Koryo and Thailand's Phuket Airlines. Two airlines each from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were listed as well.
Lesser restrictions were placed on Air Bangladesh and Buraq Air from Libya, which will be able to operate flights if they use certain planes that have met safety requirements, the European Commission said.
"This blacklist will keep dubious airlines out of Europe," EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said. "It will also make sure that all airlines operating in Europe's skies meet the highest safety standards."
The EU list also covers aircraft chartered from companies in non-EU countries.
It was published on the EU's Web site Wednesday and is supposed to be brought to the attention of customers by travel agents, both at ticket sales offices and on their Web sites.
Tour operators will have an obligation to inform passengers on the identity of the carrier.
Under the new rules, passengers also will have a right to compensation if the airline on which they were to fly was included on the list or replaced by another banned airline after they bought the ticket.
The commission said it would review the list every three months with the EU's aviation safety agency, either adding new airlines or taking off carriers that meet EU safety standards.
Barrot said the EU would also provide aid to African nations in trying to upgrade airline safety standards.
He said the EU's European Aviation Safety Agency would soon have powers to issue certificates to airlines wanting to fly in European skies.
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