Sean E. Doocey, US Representative to ICAO, should follow IFALPA to defend Russian Air Traffic Controller

no criminal action zone
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Russian ATCers get 5-6 year sentences

IFALPA argues that criminalization of aviation harms SAFETY

Mr. Doocey: ICAO’s the place to decriminalize globally

 IFALPA, which represents pilots around the world, has made a plea for three Russian Air Traffic Controllers who have received criminal sentences between five and six years for their at the Moscow-Vnukovo Airport tower during a 2014 fatal crash. The union eloquently argues that criminalization of unintentional acts is contrary to the best interests of aviation safety. Airline safety performance has improved dramatically, according to IFALPA, due to a universal adoption of a strong safety culture.

The new mode of reducing risk involves a discipline of open and honest communication among all involved in flight. This transparency fosters an environment which allows pilots, controllers, flight attendants, mechanics and all involved in the business to identify human, system, procedural, mechanical, etc. errors. By flagging these incidents at any time, aviation safety professionals can define solutions proactively. The ICAO- advocated discipline is called Safety Management Systems.

The Russian Court’s criminal penalty, IFALPA correctly argues, will deter the country’s aviation community from openly sharing the information they have about an accident or incident. Recent accident and regulatory records do not get high marks from both internal and external experts. The various Russian aviation authorities would be well advised to listen to IFALPA.

Russia has problems

IFALPA’s complaint here is not one of first impression; there is no uniform rule about criminal interference in an accident investigation (even the US can be accused of this cross purpose.)

A standard rule on this nettlesome problem should be the work product of ICAO which has the charter to set globally applicable rule. There have been pleas from respected  aviation leaders to rectify this absence of this standard which all nations MUST FOLLOW:



Flight Safety Foundation’s Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar, always a source of great information, was the event where Dave Adams, a partner at Chicago’s Prangle & Schoonveld revealed some important facts. Between 1955 and 1999 there have been 27 criminal cases in which an aviation accident was the factual context of a trial. The number of merit is that since 2000, 28 criminal cases with the same subject matter have occurred. Mr. Adams’ analysis also pointed out that the cases were primarily Europe, Asia and Africa. The lawyer appropriately pointed to ICAO Annex 13, which states

“The sole purpose of the investigation of an accident shall be the prevention of accidents and incidents. It is not the purpose of this activity to apportion blame or liability.”

As noted previously here (Criminalization of Aviation Work Hurts Aviation Safety), criminalization of an aviation accident investigation shifts the focus from determining what caused the accident and how to prevent it from reoccurring to who is to blame. The process moves from a free exchange of information to one in which the targets of the criminal investigation may have a constitutional right to withhold relevant information.

Here is some material for the Ambassador use in support such a position:

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

Special Insight Into The Intersection Of Accident And Criminal Investigations

ICAO Ambassador Woerth – Look At The Trend In CRIMINALIZATION Of Aviation Safety Investigations!


The most authoritative statement, on the need to remove criminal consequences from the quest to learn what happened and how aviation can assure that the error(s) will not be repeated, comes from Dr. Hassan Shahidi, President and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation.


On April 17, 2020 Sean E. Doocey was appointed the Representative of the U.S.A. on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (Montreal) by President Trump. Mr. Doocey should propose to ICAO previous US approvals. IFALPA will regard such an action as positive. His line of predecessors is a most impressive of aviation cognoscenti.





IFALPA Calls for Immediate Release of Russian Air Traffic Controllers


October 08, 2020 09:48 AM Eastern Daylight Time

MONTREAL–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) was extremely disappointed to learn about the final verdict passed by a Court of the Russian Federation where three Air Traffic Controllers were sentenced to 5, 5 ½ and 6 years imprisonment in the aftermath of the take-off accident of a Unijet Falcon 50 at Moscow-Vnukovo airport on 20 October 2014.

accident pictures

This decision to single out and punish individuals who are already under intense psychological pressure due to an accident will not prevent a similar event from happening again. It is extremely detrimental to flight safety to criminally prosecute individuals involved in aviation accidents, as such prosecutions have the potential to seriously hinder our ability to learn from incidents and accidents so that future mishaps can be prevented.

Further, sentencing these controllers shows a complete disregard for the positive safety culture principles laid out by Annexes 13 (Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation) and 19 (Safety Management) to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, and for the work of the technical experts who were assigned to this investigation. It may also lead the general public to conclude that the accident resulted from the controllers’ intentional acts, rather than technical issues or a string of simple errors caused by multiple factors.

Annex 13 and 19

Annex 13 and 19

Pilots, controllers, and other aviation professionals who are directly or indirectly involved in aircraft incidents and accidents are encouraged to provide accurate and complete information to safety investigators so that related safety recommendations can be determined. However, many mistakes that could assist in the prevention of future accidents still go unreported because those involved believe they will not receive fair treatment and are fearful of punitive actions from employers, regulatory authorities, and courts.

Russian Jail

Whilst legal repercussions have a place in our society, actions carried out by aviation professionals must always be viewed in the context in which they occurred, taking into account a thorough technical investigation. Detention, sentencing, and punishment will never prevent mistakes or errors from occurring, as mistakes are, by definition, unintentional. If every significant accident automatically leads to criminal prosecution and imprisonment, the lack of incident reporting will only increase, and aviation professionals will no longer be willing to fully cooperate with technical experts and investigators, which will adversely impact the free flow of critical safety information and therefore negatively impact aviation safety as a whole.

In this particular case, it is our belief that the three controllers were not sentenced for causing the accident that resulted in the deaths of those aboard the aircraft, but for failing to prevent the accident with the limited tools they had at their disposal at the time of the event, which were not even properly set up for the airport. There was a clear intent to put the blame on these controllers and treat them as scapegoats, without considering the many other factors that contributed to this tragic accident. This is unacceptable.

IFALPA therefore calls for the immediate release of the three controllers and urges the Russian Federation to adhere to and fully implement ICAO’s positive safety culture principles, especially in the wake of an aviation accident.

Note to Editors: The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations represents more than 100,000 pilots in nearly 100 countries around the globe. The mission of IFALPA is to promote the highest level of aviation safety worldwide and to be the global advocate of the piloting profession; providing representation, services and support to both our members and the aviation industry. Please visit for more information.

©2020 The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations. This publication is provided for information purposes only, in all cases pilots should follow their company’s guidance and procedures. In the interest of flight safety, reproduction of this publication in whole or in part is encouraged. It may not be offered for sale or used commercially. All reprints must credit IFALPA.

Russian control tower


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