New regulations on inspection and grounding of third-country aircraft

Julio López Quiroga, Isabel Meca Gavilá.

13/11/2006 International Law Office

Earlier this year, the Royal Decree on the Safety of Third-Country Aircraft Using Airports and Other Aerodromes Located in the Spanish Territory (547/5006) implemented new regulations. The decree establishes a ramp inspection procedure for third-country aircraft using Spanish airports or aerodromes to ensure that the aircraft comply with international safety standards.

The decree implements the Air Safety Law (21/2003) by transposing the EU Safety of Third-Country Aircraft Directive (2004/36/EC) (named as the “SAFA directive”) into Spanish law.

Ramp Inspection Procedure

Under the decree, one of the duties of the Spanish civil aviation authorities is to inspect third-country aircraft. Inspections must adhere to the general procedure established by the Air Safety Law.

The new regulations provide that ramp inspections must be carried out in accordance with the inspection programmes approved by the government or by specific orders issued by the civil aviation authorities. These inspections will be carried out where there are grounds to suspect that a breach of international safety standards has taken place. In this regard, the decree contains a list of grounds (provided by the SAFA directive) on the basis of which a particular aircraft should be inspected.

Under the decree (although the text highlights that personnel entrusted to carry out inspections will try to avoid unnecessary delays as much as possible), the aircraft operator must assume all expenses and damage caused by the inspection. Moreover, in case of delay, assistance must be provided to passengers.

Consequences of an Inspection

Where a breach of international safety standards is detected in the aircraft under inspection, the civil aviation authorities may impose penalties other than punitive penalties.

The decree establishes that the operator of the aircraft must adopt the corrective measures deemed necessary to rectify any deficiencies before departure. In the event that the corrective measures are not implemented and that the breach of the safety international standards involves a specific and serious air safety risk, the civil aviation authorities must ground the aircraft.

Furthermore, the civil aviation authorities have authority to prescribe - in coordination with the state responsible for the operation of the aircraft or the state of registration of the aircraft - the conditions under which the aircraft will be allowed to fly to an airport where the deficiencies can be corrected.

In view of the extraordinary nature of the above-mentioned measures, its adoption requires prior verification that the deficiencies detected will affect air safety in a "clear, certain, serious and imminent" manner.

Inspection Programmes

Inspections must be carried out in accordance with the inspection programmes or orders of the public authorities.

In this regard, the government has approved (through a resolution of the Cabinet dated September 16 2005) a programme entitled "Foreign Aircraft Surveillance Plan to Improve Air Safety" (named as VAON Programme). The aim of the plan is, among other things, to inspect 3,350 third-country aircrafts by 2008. According to various publications, Spain currently ranks fourth in Europe - after France, Germany and Italy - in terms of the number of inspections carried out.


The decree represents another step towards the harmonization of the application of international safety standards at EU level. From a national perspective, the decree implements the regulations on inspection and grounding of third-country aircraft using Spanish airports contained in the Air Safety Law and highlights the importance of the Foreign Aircraft Surveillance Plan.

Related practice areas