During the last 30 years there has been an accelerating trend toward criminal prosecution of pilots or other aviation professionals like air traffic controllers following accidents, according to a leading aviation lawyer. Yet there are remedies that could change this situation beneficially over time, according to Tim Brymer of UK-based law firm Clyde & Co.

Speaking at the 5-6 December Flight International Crew Management Conference in Brussels, Brymer provided a list of guidelines to help pilots and airlines involved in an accident to avoid unwittingly digging themselves into a legal hole while they attempt to co-operate with the local investigators.

He cited the case of the Ansett Airlines Bombardier Dash 8 accident at Palmerston, New Zealand in 1995 as an example of how a carefully co-ordinated approach by pilot organisations might - in this case did - persuade the government to change the law that protects the information available to accident investigators from use by criminal prosecutors.

Brymer also cited the case of the pilots of an Embraer Legacy that survived a fatal collision with a Gol Airlines Boeing 737-800 over Brazil in September 2006 as a recent example of the tendency to charge pilots even before the basic facts associated with the accident are known.

Brymer's advice to pilots, controllers or engineers approached by investigators or legal officers following an accident or incident, whether in their own country or abroad, includes the following points:

  • do not speak about what has happened until a legal representative is available
  • be open, truthful and factual with accident investigators, but stick rigidly to known facts, avoiding opinion or speculation
  • avoid being pressurised into making statements. A legal representative can ensure that questioning is conducted according to the law.

Source: FlightGlobal.com