Foreign airlines will have to comply with new rules

Rules aim to strengthen nation's aviation sector and weed out operators that are suspected of taking safety shortcuts.

Foreign airlines have until the end of the month to comply with new rules aimed at strengthening the nation's aviation sector and weeding out operators that are suspected of taking safety shortcuts. The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) recently issued an information bulletin for passenger and cargo airlines setting minimum insurance requirements.

The regulations set a minimum insurance requirement of about US$1.1 million (Dh4m) for small aircraft, with the amount based on a basket of currencies. They will not affect the UAE's home-based passenger carriers, such as Emirates Airline, Air Arabia and Etihad Airways, because as commercial airlines they already are required to have insurance, although smaller air cargo operators could be affected.

The rules were issued by the GCAA's office of aviation safety, which said: "In the interest of public protection, it is important to ensure a proper minimum level of insurance to cover liability of air carriers and aircraft operators." The new measures follow others designed to bring the UAE's aviation laws closer to those of Europe, and discourage less reliable operators that want to establish in the Emirates to take advantage of the strong growth in the sector.

Last month, the Government banned the Antonov-12 aircraft, which went out of production in 1973, from flying in the UAE after several safety incidents were recorded last year. Fathi Buhazza, the chief executive of Maximus Air Cargo, which operates out of Abu Dhabi International Airport, welcomed the news. "I'm very happy to see the new GCAA initiatives and concerns," Mr Buhazza said. "It has really done a lot of good."

He said the GCAA was adopting a European checklist procedure, called the safety assessment of foreign aircraft, on all flights, which would also improve safety standards. Under the new rules, each emirate's department of civil aviation was required to inform the GCAA on the status of insurance coverage by all air carriers operating by March 1. These airlines now have until April 1 to provide the required documentation. If they do not, the GCAA will ban all violators by July 1 and prevent them from flying in or out of any UAE airport.

The new regulations also stipulate that, beginning next January, air carriers will be prevented from flying over UAE airspace if they do not provide documentation on their aircraft insurance. The focus on safety comes as the accident rate for Middle East airlines was almost five times higher than the rate for the world rest of the world last year because of accidents including the crashes of a cargo flight from Sharjah and a Yemen Airways passenger flight off the African coast, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.

A total of four accidents involving regional carriers was recorded last year, amounting to an accident rate of 3.32 per 1 million flights, the second-highest in the world after Africa. The accidents involved Iran Air, Yemen, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Azza Transport, based in Khartoum. No one was killed in the Iran Air and Saudi Arabian Airlines incidents, but 152 people died in the Yemen Airways crash and six were killed in the Azza Transport accident.

The IATA data used accident rates for western-built aircraft. But the accident rates are generally higher for eastern-built aircraft, primarily Russian and Ukrainian, and because of this the GCAA said it would ban the Russian-built Antonov An-12 air freighter from operating in UAE airspace from March 1. The aircraft is a workhorse of the air cargo industry and was commonly seen at the UAE's smaller airports in Sharjah, Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah.

There were several incidents involving the plane in 2008 and early last year, including runway overruns at Sharjah airport, and one crash in Iraq of a plane that departed from the UAE.