OPINION

Deregulation should not jeopardize lives

Not one of the Helios Airways aircraft, including the doomed Boeing 737 that crashed into mountains near Athens on Sunday killing all 121 people on board, had undergone any technical or flight safety check for a considerable period of time. The above allegation was made back on March 17 by a special consultant to Cyprus’s Civil Aviation Authority in a letter that was sent to the company as well as to the state officials responsible for aviation safety. Another document that was published yesterday in Cyprus’s Fileleftheros daily reveals that the contract by which the Civil Aviation Authority assigned its British counterpart with the technical inspection of all Helios aircraft, expired on March 31 and had not been renewed. In addition, the European Commission sent a reasoned opinion – the last step taken before a formal complaint to the Court of Justice is lodged – to Cyprus in early July for its failure to implement EU legislation regarding the investigation of civil aviation accidents and incidents. The objective of the EU law was clearly to improve air safety. The news raises questions over the responsibilities of Cyprus government officials in the air accident. That is not to say that the owners of the Cypriot Helios Airways plane are free of blame. After all, information about the airline’s poor maintenance and other records is growing. Nevertheless, the responsibility of state authorities in ensuring that air carriers meet all the necessary flight safety standards remains. Increasing deregulation of the economy, in fact a worldwide trend, should not be taken to mean a reduced state role in securing public safety. The protection of life, the most precious gift of all, cannot be left up to the good will of business people or conscientiousness of pilots and technical staff who anyway fear that they could lose their jobs if they report mistakes and omissions in maintenance and safety procedures that their owners deem insignificant. These problems are not exclusive to Greece. Governments must display zero tolerance or negligence when it comes to life-or-death issues.