It is strange that Ken Smart, head of the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) should be dissatisfied by the French procedures during the Concorde investigation (Comment, Flight International, 22-28 January). According to the multilateral division, aviation group of the UK Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, (DTLR), the AAIB is advising against the adoption of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 13.5.27, Participation of States.

As a victim of poor co-operation between government departments, I have suggested that the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) installs standard procedures for taking advantage of the provisions of paragraph 27. I requested that it be a requirement of any air accident involving death or serious injury to a UK citizen abroad that the FCO should inform the DTLR, and the DTLR take action under the provisions of ICAO Annex 13 chapter 5 paragraph 27, requesting the appointment of an expert entitled to: visit the scene of the accident; have access to the relevant factual information; participate in the identification of the victims; assist in questioning surviving passengers who are citizens of the expert's state; and receive a copy of the final report.

Paragraph 27 has been valid since 1994, but only as a recommendation. But since July it has been mandatory for the state of occurrence to concede to such a request, thus making a request worthwhile. However, the DTLR maintains that the state with casualties need not make a request. The conclusions of the final paragraph could take years to have effect. One of several letters to ICAO requesting the acceleration of Annex 13 onto the audit programme, sent in August 2001, was replied to in November, stating: "There is a proposal to expand the audits to two additional areas - air traffic services and aerodromes (Annexes 11 and 14) by the year 2004 and also to study the possibility for expansion to accident investigation (Annex 13)." So don't hold your breath! There are further snags. The audits take place progressively in many countries over several years, mainly assessing the infrastructure and effectiveness of the organisation under audit. Then a further two years are allowed for deficiencies to be corrected. Under the safety oversight system, ICAO would not have provision for a presence at individual investigations, though all but the most irresponsible of states must agree that it should. But when? In view of the UK government's reluctance to activate paragraph 27 further pleas for action by ICAO have met, as yet, with no reply.

In the short term, however, there is still paragraph 27 of chapter 5 Annex 13. This requires no further international legislation, just the willingness of competent states to take responsibility for their own citizens. This would cover most international accidents around the world and when there were multiple nationalities, arrangement could be made for delegation. Come on Mr Smart. Make a start.

Jack Emmerson

Penrith, UK

Source: Flight International