Scope of Controllers’ knowledge should not include criminal prosecution

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Schiphol controller errs and apologized

Swiss Controller errs and is criminally prosecuted

Aviation Safety benefits from full disclosure, criminal actions antithetical 

Previously, the Journal commented on the problems associated with introducing criminal prosecution in all aviation accidents, but in particular, a situation involving Air Traffic Control:

On September 10, 1976 a British Airways Trident collided with an Inex-Adria Aviopromet DC-6 near the Zagreb VOR in what is now Croatia. The controllers involved were arrested and put on trial charged with endangering the lives of persons and property. Three controllers were charged. The controller, Gradimir Tasić, who had worked past his relief time and who was working two positions, was found guilty and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. He was released after two years and three mounts thanks to IFATCA putting a great deal of pressure on the government.

Tasic surely made a mistake caused by being overworked in a facility that lack adequate staffing and equipment. It was agreed that he was used as a scapegoat by the government.

The point here is that it was a sobering moment among controllers. There was no gross misconduct, just a mistake.

When F. Lee Bailey was encouraging membership in PATCO one of his selling points was that controllers could have a

court determine that they are subject to punitive damages.





ICAO has discussed the subject in at least three Assemblies. Trying to find a way to say the courts should stay away until gross negligence is indicated. Can’t be done.

I think most of the aviation world believes a criminal investigation threatens the accident investigation by possibly inhibiting the statements of those involved.

I believe the governing Assembly Resolution is A38-3, which says, inter alia”

“Recognizing that the use of information, derived from accident investigations, for disciplinary, civil, administrative and criminal proceedings is generally not a means to maintain or improve aviation safety.”

“The Assembly…1. Urges Member States to continue and if necessary, adjust their laws, regulations and policies to protect certain accident and incident records in compliance with para 5.12 of Annex 13 in order to mitigate impediments to accident and incident investigations…”

Mr. Loos’ cogent, practical observations also find strong support from other commentators:

Criminalizing Aviation: Placing Blame Before Safety

The Investigative Process – NTSB Home

Aviation Safety Groups Issue Joint Resolution Condemning Criminalization of Accident Investigations


Criminal Liability & Aircraft Accident Investigation

Criminal Liability and Aviation Safety

Air traffic controller convictions draw criticism

There are two recent incidents on this same confluence of ATC error and law enforcement. The first looks to be headed in the right direction; the second appears to ignore the unusual circumstances of aviation safety.


An easyJet Airbus A320 collided with a KLM Boeing 737-800 at Schiphol airport, 9 July 2019.

(Photo: Jye Sandiford/Twitter)

A misunderstanding seems to be the cause of a collision between an easyJet Airbus and a KLM Boeing at Schiphol on Tuesday. Air traffic control allowed both to leave the gate at the same time, after which they hit each other, according to sound recordings of the conversation between air traffic control and the KLM pilot, AD reports.

The collision happened during pushback, while the ground staff pushed the planes backwards out of the gates. Webcam recordings show how the easyJet Airbus and KLM Boeing are pushed backwards simultaneously. They collided with each other while they both tried to make a turn. Both planes were damaged.

On the recording, you can hear an air traffic controller calling it a misunderstanding, according to the newspaper. “I thought you were parked on the H-gate, but now it’s D25”, he said to the KLM pilot, instructing him to stop taxiing and return to the gate if possible. This is when the KLM pilot told air traffic control that he collided with an easyJet plane. “Yes?” the traffic controller asked. “Oops. That is very annoying.” He immediately apologized.

No one was injured in the collision, passengers only had to deal with a delay. KLM and easyJet both organized replacement planes to take the passengers to their destination.

Exactly how this incident could have happened, is still being investigated. It is already clear that none of the people involved were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Aviation expert Joris Melkert, lecturer in Aviation Technology at TU Delft, called the collision a “modest incident” and “possibly a case of not paying attention”, according to AD. “I call it an oops moment. But it does underline the conclusions that the Dutch Safety Board already drew in a report last year. The report points out security risks that arise because more and more people are flying from Schiphol. According to the Board, measures are needed to continue to guarantee safety.

The comments by the reporter at the end of his article appear quite appropriate—it is a learning moment. The ATC and Schiphol management should examine the procedures to minimize the future risks for reoccurrence.

ATC Reps Warn of Safety Fallout from Swiss Court Ruling

A Swiss federal court has confirmed the sentencing for an air traffic controller convicted of “negligent disruption of public transport,” marking the first time a controller in Switzerland has been convicted with legal effect, Swiss ATC provider Skyguide reported on July 4.

The federal criminal court in Bellinzona earlier had sentenced the controller on duty during an April 12, 2013 event involving an Irish Ryanair and Portuguese TAP aircraft that “unintentionally converged” over the Napf region (Lucerne).

According to Skyguide, “the safety nets on the ground and in the air worked as planned, so that the situation could be defused quickly.” The incident did not result in personal injury or property damage, Skyguide added.

While Skyguide said the conviction does not affect the long-term employment of the controller (who instead faces a fine), the ATC provider is concerned about the long-term safety ramifications such convictions can have.

“Skyguide is disappointed with this decision and will now analyze what this means for air navigation services operations in the future,” it said. For Skyguide, such a conviction can harm the efforts to continuously improve through a “Just Culture” safety practice. This approach is crucial because human error can never be ruled out, it added. “Over the past fifty years, this safety culture and the learning processes it entails have made aviation the safest means of transport.

In the Ryanair/TAP case, the controller and a pilot involved reported the incident, spurring the internal and external investigation. While the first to be upheld with legal effect, the conviction was among a number that Swiss courts have handed down against controllers over the past couple of years for incidents that caused neither damage nor injury.

These findings have resulted in calls from the international community for Switzerland to change its penal code and align with international standards.

“The Swiss justice system is setting new unheard-of standards for the aviation industry,” said the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) in reaction to the most recent finding. “With this sentence, the Swiss Justice system chose to go against all advice from the aviation industry. It will be interesting to see what the further consequences of such a decision will be, both nationally but also internationally.”

IFATCA added that if controllers must live in fear every time they go to work “it will be difficult to uphold the current efficiency of the aviation system as well as it will be difficult to attract employees.”

“Legal proceedings and convictions do not make aviation safer but endanger the continuous development of high safety standards in Swiss air traffic,” Skyguide added. “The question must therefore be allowed as to whether criminal law is the right means of dealing with an incident in which the security system has functioned as expected and in which no personal injury or damage to property has occurred.”

The Swiss authorities should reconsider its criminalization of these safety functions. Handcuffs should not be part of Air Traffic Control!!!














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1 Comment on "Scope of Controllers’ knowledge should not include criminal prosecution"

  1. Re the KLM, back at IDL/JFK. Bill Parenteau was adamant that we did not control tha aircraft on the ramp, that was the Port’s responsibility.

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