Criminalisation of air traffic controllers will not help keep skies safe

CESI member, the Air Traffic Controllers European Unions’ Coordination (ATCEUC) strongly condemns the "criminalisation" of aviation accidents or incidents. ATCEUC expresses concerns regarding the public pressures that accompany any crash or serious incident with the associated "search" for a guilty party.

Criminalisation of air traffic controllers will not help keep skies safe

For ATCEUC, criminal authorities that hold jurisdiction should first have to assess the actions leading to the accident/incident. Air Traffic Controllers’ behaviour shall be first analysed: was it a mistake, made by a qualified professional acting in a responsible manner or was it a clear case of willful misconduct or was there “a manifest, severe and serious disregard of an obvious risk and profound failure of professional responsibility to take such care as is evidently required in the circumstances, causing foreseeable damage to a person or property, or which seriously compromises the level of aviation safety” (EU Regulation N°376/2014, Art. 16, paragraph 10)?

ATCEUC supports “A Culture where front line operators are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them that are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence, willful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated”. Following the accident of October 20th, 2014 at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, the Russian prosecutors’ first decision was to charge air traffic controllers with “causing multiple deaths through negligence by breaching air safety rules”.

Even though the accident is still under investigation, with no formal conclusions at this stage, an Air Traffic Controller (and a trainee controller) is held in custody and charged with violation of safety regulations and rules of aircraft operation that caused the death of two or more people by inadvertence, according to the Russian Penal Code.  ATCEUC condemns the decision to publicly identify and already charge the Air Traffic Controllers with criminal offense.

As the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee report indicates that there was no suggestion of intent to do wrong from the Air Traffic Controllers, the decision to prosecute at this time is not consistent with, nor respecting the commitment that Russia made in 2010 to create a “Just Culture” in aviation. By doing so, prosecutors are putting in danger the establishment of equilibrium between two equally relevant goals: aviation safety and the administration of justice. The future improvement of aviation safety in Russia is also at stake.

At European Level, ATCEUC reiterates the importance of a “Just Culture” and the need for more action to ensure that all Member States really implement Just Culture in a harmonized way. ATCEUC will keep a critical eye on future developments regarding “Just Culture” in Europe and will continue to work hard for its appropriate implementation.

You can read the full press release here.

The Air Traffic Controllers European Unions’ Coordination (ATCEUC) represents 28 unions and is the voice of 14’000 Air Traffic Controllers across Europe.