Bahia Bakari, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, was found clinging to aeroplane wreckage eight miles from the island of Le Grande Comore on Tuesday. Her recovery is one comfort in a tragedy that killed the 152 other passengers on Yemenia flight IY626, a crash which raises fresh fears about the safety of international air travel.
Their itinerary began in Paris aboard another aircraft, an Airbus A330, which fully met French and European airline standards but before the journey ended, the flight touched down in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, whereupon passengers were transferred to an older Airbus A310. Banned from French airspace after an inspection in 2007 revealed "numerous" defects, it was this – less safe – aircraft that went down. The practice of airlines using well-maintained aircraft for journeys into European airspace before moving passengers to poorer flights is not new, but little has been done to diminish this dangerous practice by our aviation regulators.
This week the European Union Transport minister, Antonio Tajani, suggested an international "blacklist" of carriers. But there are reasons to suspect that this would not be effective. Firstly, while the number of nations that could sign up to the EU list could be broader, nations with lax safety standards are unlikely to prove effective enforcers. Secondly, the most thorough blacklist in operation, administered by the EU, did not prevent this crash since Yemenia Air was not on it – even though the carrier was forbidden from servicing the jets of European carriers in February.
A simple and effective reform could be made, however. The framework of blacklisting used in both France and the EU can currently bar all carriers in certain countries, specific carriers in some countries, and parts of fleets of some airlines. This final facility should be immediately scrapped and replaced with a simpler rule: if an airline continues to use even one aircraft with a historically poor safety record, the carrier should be banned from flying in European airspace.
That Yemenia saw financial advantage in operating a two-tier system of aircraft safety – only some were safe enough for wealthy Europeans – should have been cause to ban its entire fleet.