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Blog Posted in avatar   Johnny Summerton's Blog

French anger and frustration over charter airline's "trickery"

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By Johnny Summerton
Posted Feb 1, 2011 in World
Strategic Airlines - a charter company banned by France's civil aviation authority - makes a mockery of the country's civil aviation authority and takes advantage of a lack of European Union-wide regulations.
In a special report during its prime time news on Monday, French television channel TF1 looked at how the European subsidiary of the Australian-based company Strategic Airlines had managed to flout a ban placed on it by the French civil aviation authority last September.
The charter airline simply moved its headquarters to neighbouring Luxembourg, as a "completely separate subsidiary" gained a licence from that country's aviation authority, and continued its flights from French airports to destinations in Greece and Portugal.
Strategic Airlines first gained a licence to fly in Europe in 2009 but its name soon became synonymous, as far as passengers and authorities in France were concerned, with technical problems and delays.
Complaints about waits of up to 30 hours because of technical problems and 'planes described by passengers as "flying coffins" as well as spot-checks carried out French civil aviation authority officials led to its licence being revoked in September 2010.
But just a few weeks later the company was back in business.
It had found a loophole in European Union regulations: there is no single agency within the 27-member state bloc responsible for overseeing airlines.
Perhaps the European Aviation Safety Agency would be the body most able to fulfil that function, but its role is limited as it makes clear on its website.
"The Agency works hand in hand with the national authorities which continue to carry out many operational tasks, such as certification of individual aircraft or licencing of pilots."
In other words each member state is responsible for deciding whether a licence will be issued to an airline and although a blacklist of airlines exists, it only applies to non-European companies.
And, according to Gilles Gompertz the general manager of the airline consulting business Avico, Strategic took full advantage of the inadequacy of EU-wide regulations and resorted to simple "trickery".
"We closed the the door (to the airline) in September 2010 and one month later we opened the window," he said.
"What cannot be explained is the refusal by the company to correct faults and to return to the market after it has effectively been banned. That's shocking."
While Luxembourg's civil aviation authority is apparently "keeping a close eye" on Strategic's operations, it did little to prevent the airline once again upsetting passengers bound for the island of Madeira last December.
After a 10-hour wait, they were informed that their 'plane had been cancelled - an incident the airline put down to having been the fault of the tour operator.

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