The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA), is extremely disappointed to learn of the ongoing prosecution and sentencing of Air Traffic Controllers with heavy fines in Switzerland, to even incarceration in Russia. This reaction does nothing to improve aviation safety.
Aviation is the safest mode of transport, and accidents are extremely rare. This is thanks to the continuous effort to learn from incidents and accidents where the stringent aviation standards may
not have been met.
Switzerland and Russia remain amongst the few States that have chosen to deviate from international standards and recommendations – including those specified in Annexes 13 (Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigations) and 19 (Safety Management Systems) to the Convention on International Civil Aviation – when it comes to using safety reports to trigger court cases.
The Swiss judicial system is limited by the 1942 penal code, which binds the courts to perform in a
manner that is not beneficial to aviation safety. An urgent review is needed in line with Resolutions
38-3 and 38-4 of the General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the
aviation specialised body of the United Nations.
The Russian judicial system judged and sentenced the Air Traffic Controllers not for causing an
accident and the death of people, but for failing to prevent an accident with tools that were not
properly set up for the airport, and there were no clear rules for operating the system. The Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control System (A-SMGCS) was left on its factory settings and there was no training provided on the use and operations of the system.
Aviation, and in particular air traffic control, is a complex industry where the front-end operator is
working as an integral part of the system, interacting in teams with systems and procedures. These complex systems are extremely resilient and do not fail only because of one element of the system, it is the system that fails, not the individual.
Lengthy and costly court cases do not improve aviation safety, nor do they contribute to the
robustness of complex systems. They create a climate of fear amongst aviation professionals and
result in a reluctance to submit reports. The opportunity to learn from these events is therefore
severely compromised. Just Culture is not a carte blanche for aviation professionals, including air
traffic controllers. It is an essential cornerstone that allows aviation professionals to actively engage in the process of improving safety.
In Russia, the official accident report that led to the condemnation of 3 controllers mentions the fact that controllers did not use the voluntary reporting system to identify the shortcomings that led to the accident. Yet there is a mention that Vnukovo airport had 34 runway incursion reports in the 4 years preceding the accident (2010-2014) while during that period only one incursion in Sheremetyevo airport and 3 in Domodedovo, both of them have considerably more traffic than Vnukovo.
IFATCA urgently calls upon Switzerland and Russia to align with other States and International
standards, to incorporate the principles of Just Culture into their legal system in order to provide for a balanced approach between safety and the administration of justice.