NEWS

Budget airline’s methods expected to come under microscope

Sunday’s crash of the Helios Airways aircraft set in motion unprecedented speculation as to the causes of the tragic accident and over who and what was to blame. That speculation continues, exacerbating the grief of the victims’ loved ones, and has caused widespread confusion, compounded by the failure of the airline to release the full identities of the passengers and crew members. This was because bookings were made in many cases without recording passengers’ addresses and telephone numbers, ages and fathers’ names in order to avoid confusion, given the large number of people with the same name. As a result, first the victims’s families, then the Cypriot government, were outraged. Police moved in to collect additional data needed to provide a full list of names and information on the airline. Cypriot Transport Minister Haris Thrasou said the civil aviation authority had never received any complaints (about the airline) from staff members or passengers. The airline claims that any problems with an aircraft were supposed to be recorded by crew members for the attention of the next crew on flight duty, but it said that no such problems had been reported. The staff union rejected the idea that crew members had failed to report problems for fear of losing their jobs, since it was difficult to believe that anyone would prefer to risk the deaths of dozens of people in order to keep a job. Nevertheless, such rumors had been reported in private, said the minister. The government and airline concur that the aircraft in question had experienced problems on a recent Warsaw-Larnaca flight, after which the aircraft had undergone a full inspection in Larnaca and then in London, where it was certified as airworthy by the manufacturer. As for press reports that a British expert working with Cyprus’s civil aviation authority had charged that the inspections were not up to standard, the minister emphasized that all legal procedures had been followed and that the Cypriot civil aviation authority had a high approval rating from both international and particularly European aviation organizations. Cost cutting The uproar is not likely to abate; in fact, it is likely to swell as investigations by police, civil aviation services and of course technical experts continue. Naturally, the conditions under which smaller, budget airlines cut costs will also come under the microscope. The question that re-emerges again and again is to what extent these cost-cutting methods affect flight safety. Also to be expected are political disputes over the higher levels of responsibility for the tragedy – which administration gave the airline an operating license (the operative time frame places it under the previous government), and whether corners were cut. Further complications are expected to arise from the fact that both Helios Airways and it owner company, Libra Holidays, are owned by former officials both in the present ruling party (a former transport minister and a former ministry general director) and its predecessor (a finance minister in the previous government).