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ATM safety hit by reporting failures

Eurocontrol demands action from transport ministers

Eurocontrol is taking high-level action over the continued failure of some countries to develop effective air traffic management (ATM) incident reporting systems.

The organisation has asked European transport ministers to kick-start “just culture” measures that will protect controllers and other frontline ATM staff from punishment when they report safety-related operational problems. It wants them to push their respective justice ministers to amend national judicial systems to provide the necessary legal protection.

Incident reporting, already established in the airline industry, is seen as essential to improving ATM safety and was one of the seven areas identified as requiring urgent action following a mid-air crash over Uberlingen, Germany in July 2002. Eurocontrol says incident reporting remains the only area not to have made progress and while some states have begun introducing measures, the process is not comprehensive and the quality of the safety data received “varies significantly from state to state”.

The Brussels-based agency has set up a safety data reporting and data flow task force to convince recalcitrant member states to take “immediate action” on introducing a just culture approach to reporting ATM failures.

A report by the task force presented to an International Civil Aviation Organisation seminar in Baku, Azerbaijan on 7 April pointed to the “massive growth” of air traffic in the foreseeable future and warned that action was needed now to “prevent the erosion of safety margins”.

In a wide-ranging study last year the task force established that ATM personnel often fail to co-operate with investigations into safety-related incidents because they are worried about being blamed or punished. It also cites “elements of the media” for aggressive reporting of “apparent breaches of flight safety”, which it believe “hinders incident reporting and the sharing of data”.

“We need to get a critical mass of countries adopting just culture,” says Tony Licu, manager of Eurocontrol’s European Safety Programme. “To do that we must move out of the aviation box and convince legislators, prosecutors and the media.”

He says safety data collection is central to a functioning safety management system and that because accidents and incidents often result from a combination of circumstances, “it is often difficult to uncover unsafe operational practices in time to deal with them appropriately”.


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