BEIRUT: EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst said Thursday that the EU’s threat to ban Lebanese carriers from flying over Europe if a national civil aviation regulatory authority is not formed soon was aimed at encouraging authorities to implement safety measures.
“We have been pushing for the formation of the regulatory authority for quite some time because this step is in the interest of Lebanon and maintain safety and security in the aviation filed,” Eichhorst told a conference at Beirut Chambers of Commerce attended by Middle East Airlines Chairman Mohammed Hout and the ambassadors of various European countries.
She said her previous appeals to speed up the formation of the regulatory authority fell on deaf ears, and stressed that Lebanon was simply being held to the same standards as other countries.
In a statement, the EU slammed remarks by Transportation Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, who has questioned the motives behind the EU’s warning.
The statement said the International Civil Aviation Organization has constructively engaged with the Lebanese authorities, seeking guarantees about the oversight mechanisms for aviation safety in Lebanon. The EU has repeatedly called on Lebanon to implement Law 481, passed in 2002, which calls for establishing an independent civil aviation authority.
“On 10 April 2014, the European Commission has again reminded the Lebanese General Directorate of Civil Aviation of the urgent need to implement the law, as well as to give concrete answers to the International Civil Aviation Organization in order to resolve the current aviation safety challenges,” the EU said in its statement, pointing to technical assistance it had provided to help Lebanon address these concerns.
“Lebanese authorities assured the EU that complying with international regulations on civil aviation safety is a top priority for the country.”
Zeaiter told The Daily Star Wednesday that he was surprised by Eichhorst’s statement, particularly after having a meeting with her that he described as positive.
“There is a certain mechanism we need to follow. ... We can’t be pressed to form the [regulator] right now,” the minister said. “If the EU wants to send a delegation to inspect [safety at] the airport, then they are more than welcome.”
Hout meanwhile sought to assure travelers that there was no issue with the safety of his airline’s flights.
The MEA chairman said Eichhorst had explained during a meeting that “she was trying to apply the requirements acceptable by the European Union,” but stressed that the lack of an independent civil aviation authority did not mean that safety standards did not exist.
Hout stressed that Zeaiter was very enthusiastic about the formation of the regulatory authority and understood its importance.
Hamdi Chouk, the former director general of the Civil Aviation Department at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, told The Daily Star that there was no excuse for failing to establish the regulator, noting that “we have waited 12 years to form this committee,” and that the EU would not compromise on its demands.
He also emphasized that the safety measures adopted by the airport and MEA are very good, adding that the national carrier has an excellent safety record.