EU Accident Investigation – ECA Provides Solutions

In 2010, the European pilots’ community was very active all along the legislative process which led to the adoption of the new EU Accident Investigation Regulation. A clear-cut independence of safety investigation from prosecution and the related solid protection of sensitive safety data were the two key demands of ECA. After having contributed to this new Regulation, today ECA makes a further contribution to enhancing aviation safety: a template Advance Arrangement for the coordination between safety investigators and the judicial authorities.

During the legislative process last year, ECA repeatedly stressed that the sole objective of any accident investigation is to understand what happened and why, in order to improve aviation safety, without apportioning blame or liability, as stated in Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention. Together with air traffic controllers, pilots pushed strongly for a safety-oriented approach. But the legalistic position of Member States prevailed and resulted in a far less ambitious piece of legislation than would have been required to enhance safety. However, the new EU Regulation 996/2010 provides some positive elements, in particular the legal requirement to set up ‘Advance Arrangements’ between the Accident Investigation body and the judiciary authorities in each Member State.

From the very beginning it has been pilots’ firm belief that such Advance Arrangements, covering key aspects of any accident investigation – such as the appropriate use of safety information – can be a powerful tool to improve aviation safety. Accident investigators should be able to obtain in confidence the information necessary to find the factors which contributed to accidents and to make well-informed safety recommendations to avoid future accidents. But this cannot be achieved if pilots or controllers are frightened of being prosecuted based on their safety testimony. An upstream dialogue between judicial authorities and safety investigators can usefully contribute to avoiding such a harmful situation.

That is why ECA and IFATCA developed a joint template for such Advance Arrangements. It was released very recently and first presented to the European Civil Aviation Conference’s expert group on accident and incident investigation. Key principles such as the right to non-self incrimination, the right to privacy and due process or mutual consent were used to produce this document, which is now available to all interested parties.  

Increasing mutual understanding between aviation professionals and judicial authorities is a key ingredient to improve aviation safety. Advance Arrangements can be a useful enabler to progress in that direction and are an opportunity for each Member State to move things forward. ECA and IFATCA are willing to play their part and their new template is a concrete further contribution to making tomorrow’s aviation safer.