New EU Air Accident Investigation – A First Step

After tough negotiations with the EU Council of Ministers, the European Parliament voted a new EU Accident Investigation Regulation, in late September. Unfortunately, this compromise text fails to provide for strict independence of accident investigations from judicial ones and to protect sensitive safety information – two crucial preconditions for preventing accidents and loss of life in future. These were also the two key demands of ECA during the past year.

However, the newly-adopted regulationcontains a number of good new elements.The “Just culture” principle is mentioned for the first-time ever in a piece of EU legislation. The pilots’ community is a strong promoter of this principle, which guarantees that aviation professionals can report and testify without fear of litigation and sanctions and hencemakes it far easier to learn from past incidents to prevent future accidents.The regulation also provides for a ‘non-regression clause’ allowing Member States to limit the cases in which safety information can be shared with the Judiciary.This will allow countries to maintain stricter national protection requirements.

A completely new element are ‘Advance Arrangements’ between the Accident Investigation Body and the judiciaryauthorities. Such arrangements must be created in each Member State, covering subjects such as access to the site of the accident and the appropriate use of safety information, etc. Pilots, as safety professionals, intend to make the most of this tool and ECA members will striveto be closely involved in the development of such arrangements at national level to promote a safety-oriented approach. Last but not least, the regulation is to be reviewed no later than 4 years after its entry into force, opening the door for further improvements within a relatively short time.

Achieving ECA’s goal of a clear-cut independence of safety investigation from prosecution – and the related solid protection of sensitive safety data – was an ambitious goal and the new regulation can only be a first step.Increasing mutual understanding between aviation professionals and judicial authorities is a major challenge in front of us. The upcoming revision of Occurrence Reporting Directive is another one. And pilots know that they can count on the determination of the European Parliament to defend a pro-safety stance in the future.