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IN FOCUS: The criminalisation of air accidents threatens safety management philosophy


David Learmont in the Flight International article above has highlighted the excellent analyses and observations expressed by Tim Brymer, a partner at Clyde & Co. in London. Mr. Brymer is an aviation accident litigation lawyer and he has done a superb job of marshalling arguments why the criminal prosecutors should not control the process of accident investigation. This Journal has joined in support of Mr. Brymer’s position and then asked Ambassador Woerth to have the International Civil Aviation Organization to use its United Nation’s global aviation safety powers to stop such governmental action/interference.

The recent history of civil aviation safety has been a movement from retroactive analysis to the more proactive data driven approaches, most notably SMS. The focus of accident investigation has been to focus on the why and the what, rather than the drive of most criminal investigations to determine who is responsible. Counsel Brymer did a superb job of explaining the influence of the Code Napoleon and the Japanese Civil Code, which have a tradition of mandating a determination of guilt. The lawyers of these legal systems need not be faulted trying to publicize tragedies for whatever reasons; they are just doing what their juristic precedents tell them to do.

The call for ICAO action, as this article points out, has been a matter of a formal request drafted by the Flight Safety Foundation and endorsed by the who’s who of world aviation: France’s Air and Space Academy; the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS); the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation; the European Regions Airline Association; the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations; the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association; and the International Society of Aviation Safety Investigators.

In its testimony to the House Aviation Subcommittee the US Airline Pilots Association has joined in the call for decriminalization. Other advocates have added their voice on the side of global standards including the James Crouse Aviation Safety Blog on Criminalization of Aviation Accidents and Flying in the Face of Criminalization: The Safety Implications of Prosecuting Aviation Professionals for Accidents by Sofia Michaelides-Mateou and Andreas Mateou.

Based on this excellent flight international article, it appears that ICAO should take action to create a global standard that would limit/prohibit criminal actions that interfere in accident investigations!! Ambassador (also Captain) Woerth please introduce a resolution at ICAO.

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