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Bulgaria air carriers grumble over safeguard curbs

Date: 28.02.2008

Bulgarian air carriers have complained of being cornered by the restrictions, which the European Union introduced shortly before the country's accession on January 1, 2007 over "grave deficiencies" in safety procedures.

"The safeguard clause puts the Bulgarian carriers in a very disadvantaged position," representatives of the Air Carriers Association said during a forum that took place over the weekend.

According to them their predicament stems from the fact that the safeguard clause excluded local air carriers from the benefit of being considered a "Community carrier" and they continued to operate as "third country operators" to and from member states in accordance with existing bilateral agreements.

Five local cargo airlines were stripped of licence.

Zahari Alexiev, head of the Civil Aviation Administration directorate with the Transport Ministry, disagreed, saying that even before the restrictions were imposed by the European Union, cargo air carriers were excluded from operating across the bloc.

He pointed out that the fleets of European Union member states do not fly An 12 and An 24, while An 26 will be banned at the end of March despite efforts to extend the deadline by eighteen months.

"The restrictions forced us to understand that the system can work only when it is set in place properly," Alexiev added.

Bulgaria has received cautious indications that the safeguard clause against its aviation is likely to be scrapped in the first half of this year.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) renewed its inspections in Bulgaria at the end of November last year and its report will have the final say on whether to lift the restrictions.

Official data shows that a total of 5,985,000 passengers arrived in Bulgaria by international flights in 2007, marking a 10.8% increase over the previous year.

More than 36% of the passengers were transported by Bulgarian airlines, down from 40.6 % in 2006.

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