Libya's two main airlines - Afriqiyah Airways and Libyan Airlines - have been banned from flying to the European Union because of safety fears.
The decision was announced yesterday alongside the publication of the European Commission (EC) latest list of air carriers subject to operating bans and other operational restrictions in the EU. The airlines are not actually on the list but will not be able to resume flights to any destination in the 27-nation EU until November 22 at the earliest.
The list, updated annually, is drawn up by the EC's Air Safety Committee in consultation with the European Aviation Safety Agency and Croatia, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Some 279 air carriers from 21 countries - including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, the Philippines and Zambia - are excluded from EU airspace.
"Serious concerns were identified regarding the safety oversight of air carriers licensed in Libya," an EC spokesman said. "So, intense consultations were held with the civil aviation authorities of Libya and with the Libyan minister of transport. As a result, the Libyan civil aviation authorities have adopted restrictions applicable to all air carriers licensed in Libya, which exclude them from flying into the EU with immediate effect and until at least 22 November 2012.
"On this basis, the commission, with the full support of the Air Safety Committee, considered that inclusion of Libyan air carriers in the EU air safety list was not necessary. Nonetheless, implementation of the measures decided by the Libyan authorities remains subject to close monitoring."
Both airlines had been grounded by the Libyan uprising and the Nato "no-fly zone" established over Libya. The carriers resumed limited timetables only within the past few weeks - mostly to domestic destinations.
However, Libyan Airlines had operated scheduled services to destinations in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Malta and Greece. Afriqiyah Airways' destinations had included Brussels, London, Milan, Rome, Paris, Düsseldorf and Amsterdam. The two carriers were expected to merge last year, but the disruptions of the Arab Spring forced this deal to be postponed, with the airlines now scheduled to merge by the first half of next year, according to Yousef El Uheshi, Libya's interim transport minister.
"The commission is ready to spare no effort to assist its neighbours in building their technical and administrative capacity to overcome any difficulties in the area of safety as quickly and as efficiently as possible," said Siim Kallas, the vice president of the European Commission responsible for transport. "In the meantime, safety comes first. We cannot afford any compromise in this area," Mr Kallas said. "Where we have evidence inside or outside the European Union that air carriers are not performing safe operations, we must act to guarantee to exclude any risks to safety."
Afriqiyah Airways' only major fatal accident was on May 12, 2010, when an Airbus A320, flying from Johannesburg to Tripoli crashed on approach to Tripoli airport, killing 11 crew members and 93 passengers. A 9-year-old Dutch boy was the sole survivor. Libyan Airlines' worst accident was a mid-air collision between one of its Boeing 727s and a Libyan air force MiG-23 near Tripoli on December 22, 1992. All 157 on board the Boeing and both crew members of the MiG died.
The Venezuelan airline Conviasa was added to the EU blacklist of airlines with poor safety records. Its exclusion was "due to numerous safety concerns arising from accidents and the results of ramp checks at EU airports", the EC said.
The EC also reviewed the safety record of two other Venezuelan carriers, Estelar Latinoamerica and Aerotuy, but decided to place them under increased monitoring instead of imposing restrictions.
In Caracas, the government of Hugo Chávez, the president, called the EC move "totally disproportionate".
In a statement, the Venezuelan foreign ministry threatened Brussels with "reciprocal" measures "in order to preserve its interests … and the prestige of the airline".