French authorities seeking data analysis compliance

 - October 27, 2010, 12:20 PM

Recent pilot reports have suggested that French civil aviation authorities are requiring foreign operators to demonstrate that they have a safety ­management system (SMS) or flight operations ­quality assurance (Foqa) program before they grant traffic rights. In fact, for the past two years France’s aviation authority (DGAC) has mandated that foreign operators flying commercially or operating an aircraft weighing more than 27 metric tons (59,500 pounds) have a flight data analysis program (FDAP). The requirement is independent of any EASA regulation, with the DGAC maintaining it is enforcing ICAO standards.

Didier Serrano, head of the foreign operator monitoring directorate for civil aviation safety (DSAC), disputes the assertion that agents are requiring a Foqa or SMS but he concedes they do ask about them. “Crews often know their country’s regulations but not ICAO standards,” Serrano explained. The existence of a Foqa implies that the operator has an FDAP in place. So, if the crew does not know about the FDAP, asking about a Foqa is a way to get the answer. An SMS usually contains an FDAP, he added. According to Christophe Bruni, the DSAC’s foreign airlines observatory program manager, an operator’s aircraft must be equipped with quick-access recorders to run an FDAP.

Questions About International Standards

ICAO standards require that a commercial operator (Part 135 or Part 121 in the U.S.) implement an FDAP. This is also true for any aircraft with an mtow of more than 27 metric tons.

What appears subject to interpretation is that ICAO now requires the FDAP as a component of an SMS. In that case, can French authorities use ICAO standards as a basis for requiring an FDAP, independent of an SMS? “Yes, because historically FDAPs have been required before SMSs,” Bruni answered. The DGAC does not require an SMS simply because the EASA has not translated ICAO’s SMS standards into European rules yet, Bruni explained.

Under existing ICAO standards, European commercial operators already have to use FDAPs. An FAA spokesperson confirmed to AIN that “the FAA does not have an FDAP requirement at this time,” adding this translates to FOQA in the U.S., which likely explains why U.S. crews are surprised when asked about an FDAP, an SMS or a Foqa.

Serrano attributes the French government’s stricter scrutiny of foreign operators to accidents in 2004 and 2005. In the first, an airliner flown by Egyptian budget charter operator Flash Airlines crashed off Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, killing 148, including 134 French citizens. The second accident killed 160 people, most of them French, when a West Caribbean-operated MD-82 crashed in Venezuela.

“Before allowing traffic rights, we now send a form to the operator with technical questions relating to safety,” Serrano explained. The questions are based on ICAO standards. The operator is expected to answer the questions and send substantiating documents. After reading the answers and documents, the DSAC can ask for a traffic right denial if it does not like what it sees. “Before we established the [questionnaire], we could see operators landing in French Guyana without an EGPWS,” Serrano said.

The question on FDAPs has been included in the form since July 2008. Other questions are about traffic collision avoidance equipment, pilot recurrent training, RVSM and so on. Upon aircraft arrival, DSAC agents can check that the operator’s questionnaire answers are consistent with what they find on the airplane and its documents. For the DSAC, the absence of an FDAP is unacceptable. “We know the U.S. has an excellent level of safety, but the FAA knows it does not comply with ICAO standards,” Serrano insisted.

The EASA’s remit does not include foreign operator monitoring yet, an EASA spokesperson told AIN. According to Bruni, the agency will manage technical authorizations (possibly including question forms) at the European level beginning in 2012. States will retain authority of commercial authorizations, such as traffic rights.

Meanwhile, EBAA and its French chapter, EBAA France, told AIN they have no solid knowledge of the issue. A representative for EBAA France commented only, “The DGAC has realized that French operators cannot fly easily to the U.S.”