Air traffic controllers launch European 'just culture' campaign to shield aviation staff from criminal prosecution from accident investigation findings

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ATC staff bid to persuade European states to establish 'just culture' to allow them to report incidents without fear

Air traffic controllers are to launch a sustained, long-term campaign to convince resistant lawmakers within European member states of the merits of a Europe-wide establishment of "just culture".

The bid to allow investigators to establish the technical and operational factors in aircraft accidents from staff without exposing them to criminal sanctions - termed "just culture" - has long been a key area of focus within the aviation industry.

At a Brussels briefing to mark publication of a report into the im­plic­ations of the European Com­­mission's setting up of fun­ctional airspace blocks, air traffic management organisation the Civil Air Navigation Ser­­v­ices Organisation (CANSO) and employee representative the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF), noted the slow progress.

"The fact that nothing much appears to have happened cannot, therefore, be blamed on the worth of the 'just culture' concept, but is more likely to be due to the difficulties surrounding the introduction," says the report.

"Persuading national aviation authorities to amend rules, or to introduce new rules to support just culture, will often not be easy, but getting national judicial authorities to change domestic legislation may well be seen as almost impossible. Nevertheless, however long and difficult the road, unless a start is made the destination will never be reached."

The two organisations organised a multi-agency conference in September 2004 on the development of functional airspace blocks to define a bottom-up approach to the EC's Single European Sky. Just culture - or the lack of it within European air traffic management - figured as a key area of concern.

Now CANSO and ETF are to seek EC support to hold a seminar in Bucharest in June on just culture, inviting all stakeholders including the EC, Eurocontrol, airline operators and aircrew unions, staff associations and trade unions.

It is not the first attempt to garner broad support for the concept. In October, the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), CANSO, the UK Royal Aeronautical Society and France's Academie Nationale de L'Air et de L'Espace launched a campaign against the practice of initiating criminal proceedings, claiming that this put all parties on the defensive.

Eurocontrol - which has established from extensive research and interviews that legal structures and procedures can contribute in delaying the application of just culture - added its voice to the campaign.