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EU Aviation Safety Agency may gain power to fine manufacturers

European Union regulators would gain the power to fine aircraft makers and equipment suppliers for breaching safety rules under a proposal by EU lawmakers.

The European Parliament included the measure today in a draft law to expand the role of the European Aviation Safety Agency, Europe's answer to the US Federal Aviation Administration. EASA certifies plane, engine and part types in the EU including Airbus SAS's A380 superjumbo and approves maintenance companies based outside the 27-nation bloc. „It should be possible for EASA to impose sanctions without having to withdraw the whole certificate,” said Joerg Leichtfried, a lawmaker from Austria who steered the draft legislation through Parliament in Strasbourg, France. „This would make EASA fitter and a more equal counterpart to the FAA.” The proposal also needs EU national governments' backing.

The EU is centralizing aviation regulation incrementally to counter disparities in safety standards across the bloc. EASA, which also inspects national aviation authorities and drafts rules for airworthiness and maintenance, was created in 2002. The EU encroached further on the powers of member states last year by publishing its first „blacklist” of carriers banned from flying in the region. EU governments certify individual aircraft and equipment after type-approval by EASA. National authorities are also responsible for overseeing air operations such as the use of equipment and the licensing of pilots.

The European Commission, the EU's executive, is proposing to let Cologne, Germany-based EASA oversee air operations, pilot licensing and non-EU airlines. The power to authorize foreign aircraft to fly into Europe would be linked to the existing EU blacklist published by the Brussels-based commission. The EU Parliament endorsed these three elements of the draft legislation and added the proposal on fines. The 785-seat assembly voted by a show of hands.

The Parliament included no financial details of the fines, saying they should be „dissuasive and proportionate” and proposing that the commission draw up more detailed rules including the maximum penalties. Any fines would be deducted from the overall aircraft-industry contributions that make up about half of EASA's €70 million ($92 million) annual budget, according to the Parliament proposal. This provision is meant to dissuade EASA from imposing penalties to expand its budget.

The industry contributions to EASA's budget cover its certification-related activities. The agency's rulemaking and inspections are funded by the EU budget. The commission plans in a separate procedure this year to change the fee system so that relatively big manufacturers pay more. This step is linked to a plan to increase EASA's revenue from certification-related activities to between €46 million and €48 million next year. The Parliament proposed to fund some of EASA's certification activities - those linked to the „continuing airworthiness of products” - from the EU budget. The commission opposes this idea, which may fail as a result. (Bloomberg)