When the European Union upbraids an African country for lax aviation oversight it is, by now, par for the course. When the EU does so with its biggest member state, Germany, that is an entirely different issue.

In the latest update of the so-called aviation blacklist, a document through which the EU's Air Safety Committee signals concerns about specific airlines and regulators—and bars some from operating in Europe—the group has taken the unusual step of singling out member states for oversight infractions. In particular, Germany and Spain are coming under fire because ramp inspections have shown an increase in the number of carriers registered in those countries with problems. In the case of both countries, EU officials met with the relevant state organizations—the Federal Aviation Office (LBA) in Germany and AESA in Spain—to discuss the matter.

Spanish officials responded by more closely examining several carriers operations and suspending some air operator certificates (AOC), while forcing others, such as Flightline, to implement action plans to address safety concerns.

German officials also increased oversight of some airlines, including suspension of AC (Air Charter) Hamburg's AOC. But the EU goes beyond infractions at airlines; it is concerned with failures at the top of the chain. “The root cause analysis of the performance of these air carriers revealed particular weakness in the oversight of these carriers,” the EU states in an update to its safety blacklist. It points a finger at “insufficient numbers of qualified personnel within the LBA, thus impacting upon Germany's ability to ensure oversight and limiting the LBA's ability to increase the level of oversight where necessary.”

The EU's Air Safety Committee reports that the German officials have said “no improvement in the situation would occur in 2011.” A review of LBA resources is now under way and that could lead to the situation improving starting next year.

The EU also says further meetings are planned with Russia to strengthen cooperation on aviation safety oversight.

While the EU's criticism is unusual, the actions are still far less serious than the steps taken in the case of Mozambique, where the safety experts report “significant deficiencies faced by the civil aviation authorities of this country as reported by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the framework of its Universal Safety Oversight Audit.” Overall, 77% of ICAO standards were not implemented in the country and “on certain critical elements such as the provision for qualified technical personnel, more than 98% of ICAO standards were not effectively implemented.”

Mozambique has been trying to rectify safety concerns, but the actions proposed so far have deemed insufficient. This is a blow for LAM-Mozambique Airlines, which wants to expand and initiate a fleet renewal program. The airline should avoid service disruptions, though, since its only flight to Europe is to Lisbon via a code-share arrangement with TAP Air Portugal.

The other newcomer to the blacklist is Air Madagascar. The airline's two Boeing 767s have been banned, with the EU citing “persisting deficiencies in their operation and oversight.” The problems were unearthed during ramp inspections in France. “The number of findings at [Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft] inspection, the repetition of the safety deficiencies and the fact that the situation is deteriorating since 2010 indicate a serious safety concern,” the EU notes.

But several carriers managed to extricate themselves from the blacklist, including Indonesia's Cardig Air, Republic Express, Asia Link and Air Maleo, and Ukraine's UMAir. And the EU notes that “the authorities of Angola, Cambodia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have intensified their efforts to enforce the international safety standards. On this basis, some companies that are no longer engaged in commercial air transport have been taken off the list.”

Overall, the EU reports that 269 carriers are barred from operating in Europe. In 21 countries, a blanket ban is in place (although there are exceptions, such as in Indonesia). In other cases, specific airlines are blacklisted whereas the country is not, such as Surinam's Blue Wing, Ghana's Meridian Airways and Rwanda's Silverback Cargo Freighters.

Some other airlines can operate into the EU with restrictions, including only permitting some aircraft or requiring special inspections. This applies to TAAG Angolan Airlines and Iran Air.