Flight safety improved after tragedy - 'Put the public at ease'

Flight safety since the day of the "Ilios" plane crash has improved significantly, says the Head of the Flight Safety Unit of the Civil Aviation, Andreas Paspalidis

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Flight safety since the day of the "Ilios" company plane crash has improved significantly, the Head of the Flight Safety Unit of the Civil Aviation, Andreas Paspalidis, states to KYPE, who notes, however, that some "gaps and weaknesses" remain in the Department. saying that they must be dealt with.

Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency, on the occasion of the 18th anniversary of the "Ilios" plane crash, which claimed the lives of 121 people, including 22 children, including the 6 crew members, Mr. Patsalidis clarifies that the airlines in Cyprus "are safe" and calls on passengers to "feel at ease" and "travel without fear".

The KYPE also contacted the member of the Cyprus Air Accidents and Incidents Investigation Committee (EDAAS), Ioannis Drousiotis, who, analyzing the general security situation of aviation in Cyprus, states that the level of security in recent years is considered "high".

Eighteen years after the fall of "Helios", the two authorities emphasize that air traffic is monitored closely and daily, while they note that although serious incidents, concerning the country's aviation safety, are rare, they are nevertheless resolved and all the necessary measures are taken measures, while all the required recommendations are issued.

For his part, Mr. Paspalidis notes the chronic understaffing of the Department and adds that the improvement moves made over time may not be enough.

Five to six serious incidents per year involving civilian aircraft

According to the authorities, on average five to six serious incidents per year involving civil aircraft are recorded in Cyprus.

Based on the latest report of the Department of Civil Aviation, regarding the state of aviation security in Cyprus in 2022 and which was ensured by the KYPE, a total of 693 mandatory and voluntary reports were submitted to the Department of Civil Aviation, which were processed and consolidated into 623 incidents.

As the Report states, "the incidents more than doubled from 255, which were reported the previous year", while it is noted that "the trend in the last four years seems to be slightly increasing both in absolute numbers of reports, and percentages of reports.

It is noted that in 2022 there was a non-fatal accident involving a military unmanned aircraft (Drone) that crashed into the sea near Paphos for unknown reasons.

Of the five serious incidents reported in 2022, four involved aircraft separation minimum violations (SMIs), with one incident triggering the Air Collision Avoidance Alert System.

The fifth serious incident, according to the same report, involved the declaration of a fuel emergency by an ultralight aircraft (gyro) not registered in Cyprus, flying from Rhodes to Paphos, which landed safely. No serious injuries were reported.

In addition, the report notes an "upward trend" in incidents involving Air Traffic Management Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Systems, as well as aircraft strikes with birds.

What has changed since the fall of the "Sun" and after

Asked by the KYPE to state how flight safety data has changed since the tragic accident of "Helios" and after, the Head of Civil Aviation, Andreas Paspalidis, said that the situation has clearly improved, stressing that since then everyone has been faithfully followed to the letter the European regulations concerning supervision.

He stated that Cyprus fully implements European regulations, noting that "there are currently 32 licensed Organizations that are under the supervision of the Flight Safety Unit and any licensing is always in accordance with European regulations".

However, Andreas Paspalidis admitted that the Department of Civil Aviation "is understaffed", although as he noted "improvements are being made over time, which however may not be enough".

Asked about the gaps or weaknesses observed in the Department, Mr. Paspalidis focuses on the insufficient staffing of the Department, as well as on the specialization of the potential.

As he clarified, the department needs people with expertise and specialization, to add that an effort is currently being made to fill the gap by purchasing services from abroad.

"The Department needs adequate staffing. Steps have been taken, however, further staffing is needed. Staffing should be continuous and have the displacement and knowledge,” he said.

Referring to the serious incidents with civil aircraft, which are recorded from time to time, he said that "when an incident occurs, it must be detected immediately", to note that "everything that happens, there is immediate action on the part of the companies and the civil aviation".

Answering a related question, Mr. Paspalidis said that since the fall of the "Helios" aircraft, the field of flight safety is now in Cypriot hands.

He explained that previously the sector was under the management of the Civil Aviation of England, while he noted that the flight safety sector was officially created after the accident and at the moment all operation and supervision is under Cypriot hands.

When asked if mistakes were made in the "Helios" crash by the Civil Aviation Department, due to understaffing, Mr. Paspalidis said: "The Civil Aviation was not to blame for the downing of the plane. Civil Aviation has the supervision. The basis of the European regulations is each airline, which is responsible to keep the planes in good condition and to operate the company in an acceptable condition".

"Let the passengers feel at ease"

K. Paspalidis of the Civil Aviation assured that today "there is continuous and sufficient supervision" from the side of his Department, while he added that what should be done on behalf of the companies "is done with the above".

He also noted that "what is done, is done to reduce the possibility of making the mistake".

"Checks are being carried out. Civil Aviation is inspected by the EU, like all countries. The weaknesses of the Department are recorded. We all know where to aim. But there is no issue that affects the safety of flights, at least with what the Civil Aviation does. People should not be afraid to travel. Our companies are safe,” he said.

The Department of Civil Aviation to become an Authority

In the aftermath of the "Helios" air tragedy, it is worth noting that in the Report given in November 2006 by the Hellenic Commission for the Investigation of Accidents and Flight Safety - which included parameters set by the Commission for the Investigation of Aviation Accidents and Incidents of Cyprus - there was a recommendation, according to which the Civil Aviation should be made from a Department to a Civil Aviation Authority, i.e. to operate independently.

According to Andreas Paspalidis "there was never a serious discussion on this".

Specifically, in the accident report of the Accident Investigation & Flight Safety Committee of Greece there was a recommendation that the Civil Aviation Department of Cyprus change its status to Civil Aviation Authority, that the Civil Aviation Authority have its own budget and the Civil Aviation Law 2002-2005 to be amended and all powers and decisions to be taken by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Also, the recommendations at the time referred to a Civil Aviation Authority to be governed by a Board of Directors, to be appointed by the Council of Ministers, with Board members having excellent knowledge and experience in one or more areas of civil aviation.

Air traffic is constantly monitored, says Drousiotis


Speaking to KYPE, the member of the Cyprus Air Accidents and Incidents Investigation Committee (EDAAS), Ioannis Drousiotis, said that the Committee constantly monitors the airlines and receives information from people who work for them, to add that if something comes to their attention that is illegal and violates the regulations, then they take the necessary measures.

As he said, an investigation and recommendations are being made to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Asked what changed after the "Helios" accident, Mr. Drousiotis said that there is more proper surveillance of airlines since then, while he called on the involved bodies to understand that the submission of simple incident reports, their evaluation and processing and the recommendations for taking corrective measures, they are among those who do not allow a simple incident to develop into a serious incident or accident.

Besides, according to the Civil Aviation safety review for 2022, the flight safety reports that EDAAS has examined in the year 2022 amount to 621 and it has investigated 12 of them, as they were judged to be serious incidents.

In total, the Commission has received during 2022 621 petitions compared to 255 petitions received in 2020.

Flight safety reports include bird strikes, harassment of aircraft using LASER machines and Drones.

Source: KYPE