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The Not-So Friendly Skies

Lost bags may be the least of your worries in flying into some countries

When you are 30,000 feet in the air or bustling down a runway at 150 miles per hour, attention to detail becomes extremely important. A few seconds can mean the difference between a safe flight and a fatal collision. In the United States, you can rest assured that your flight has met strict safety standards set by an extremely vigilant Federal Aviation Administration, but when you travel abroad, you are sometimes at the mercy of more lax oversight bodies. Some may have failed to maintain air traffic control systems, and others may simply have abandoned regulation altogether.

That's why the FAA for the first time in 1994 released a list of nations whose governments failed to exercise sufficient safety oversight. FAA rules give carriers two alternatives: either they must make arrangements with an airline that is under the supervision of a country with approved air safety standards to fly passengers to the United States for them, or they must cease flights into the United States altogether.

Of the nine nations on the FAA list, three are in Africa--Gambia, Ghana, and Zaire. A recent study shows that the likelihood of dying in a plane crash there is 20 times higher than in the United States. The remaining six countries are in South or Central America. They are Belize, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Four additional countries--Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Netherlands Antilles--were also found not to be in compliance with international safety oversight standards, but the FAA has approved continued operations in the United States subject to heightened FAA inspections.

Not on the FAA list, but also cited as danger zones by travel experts are India, China, and Russia. Though their regulatory bodies meet FAA standards, all three nations suffer problems that an oversight agency can do little to remedy: political turmoil, deteriorating infrastructure, and a shortage of qualified pilots. In 1993 alone, for instance, 10 flights were hijacked in China. Let the flyer beware.

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Updated on April 5, 1996