Italian court actions threaten aviation safety in Italy

In 2010, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations (IFATCA) responded to the ruling from the Italian High Court, which confirmed sentences against air traffic controllers on duty at the time of a controlled flight into terrain accident, with the considered opinion that the pilots were fully accountable for their decision to conduct a visual approach that night.
IFATCA Alexis BrathwaiteIFATCAs President and Chief Executive Officer: Mr. Alexis Brathwaite.
The controllers acted within the norms of internationally established procedures; and, it could even be argued, they performed beyond the call of duty by asking the pilots about their ability to maintain their own separation from obstacles during the visual approach. (

In this Cagliari accident on 24 February 2004, the pilot of the Cessna Citation requested to perform a visual approach. The controller specifically asked the pilots to confirm that during such an approach they could provide their own separation from obstacles. The pilots answer was affirmative that they could. The controller subsequently authorized the visual approach, because, under the prevailing rules and regulations in Italy at that time there was no reason from an air traffic control perspective to withhold such permission.

The Italian High Court has recently released a statement of the motivations behind their decision. Essentially, the court held the Air Traffic Controllers responsible for the physical actions of the pilots in the aircraft; a situation the controller obviously has no direct control or influence over. The pilots concerned had received and acknowledged a valid clearance for a visual approach and confirmed their ability to maintain their own separation from terrain. This is entirely in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards that Italy, as a contracting state, has agreed to uphold.

IFATCA, along with ANACNA, our Italian Member Association, is extremely disappointed to learn of the reasons behind the courts decision. By this decision, the court is imposing upon controllers almost total responsibility for all actions in the cockpit by an aircrafts crew. This is obviously illogical and impractical, said Alexis Brathwaite, IFATCAs President and Chief Executive Officer.

The courts published reasons for their decision demonstrates their lack of understanding of the international standards set by ICAO, and sadly, also demonstrates Italys non-conformance with ICAO and European Directives and Regulations to maintain a Just Culture in aviation said Mr. Brathwaite.

Consequent to this court ruling, ANACNA, has appealed to its members not to authorize any visual approaches in Italy anymore. IFATCA endorses the approach of our member association as being in the professional interest of the Italian air traffic controllers. The Italian Air Force has gone so far as to ban its air traffic controllers from issuing visual approach clearances. Recently ENAV, the Italian Civil Air Navigation Provider has also issued instructions to its controllers to stop issuing visual approaches.

The criminalization of air traffic controllers doing their jobs in accordance with their training and experience will only have a negative impact on efforts to continually improve the safety and efficiency of the aviation system, said Mr. Brathwaite. Directors representing the 138 Member Associations of IFATCA will address this matter at our annual conference in April and will work with other international organizations to highlight the Italian situation.


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