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EU Proposes New Air Accident Investigation Laws

by Ulrika Lomas, for, Brussels

24 September 2010

The European Commission has welcomed the European Parliament’s support of new regulation on the investigation and prevention of accidents in civil aviation, which will pave the way to a first reading agreement between Parliament and the Council.

According to the Commission, the new legislation will strengthen the independence and effectiveness of air accident investigations in the EU, promote cooperation between the accident investigation authorities, and ensure better follow-up of safety recommendations. In addition, it is said that the new regulation significantly reinforces the rights of victims of air accidents and their relatives.

Commenting on the new regulations, Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said:

"While aviation is one of the safest modes of transport in the EU, accidents may happen despite the aviation regulators and the industry's best efforts, leaving passenger victims and their relatives in distress. Efficient and independent investigations of civil aircraft accidents are crucial for aviation safety. New rules will allow us to improve investigations, but most importantly, better prevent accidents from happening. They will also establish uniform rules for assisting victims of air accidents and their relatives.”

“The Parliament came to an agreement in less than a year after the Commission's proposal was presented. The Commission is now looking forward to a swift adoption of this new legislation by the Council".

The new regulation builds on the current Directive 94/56/EC establishing the fundamental principles governing the investigation of civil aviation accidents and incidents, which was adopted in 1994.

The Commission has said that because today's air accident investigations require more specialized expertise than a decade ago, better sharing of investigating resources between member states is now essential. To this end, the new regulation establishes a European Network of Civil Aviation Safety Investigation Authorities, a natural continuation of the existing informal cooperation between air accident investigation bodies of member states. According to the Commission, the network will coordinate cooperation between national authorities, advise EU institutions on air safety matters and implement an annual work program covering activities such as the training of investigators or developing a system for sharing investigation resources.

Most accident investigations result in safety recommendations, which aim to prevent future recurrences. Under the new system, each of these safety recommendations will have to be assessed by its addressee and replied to within a 90-day deadline. This process will facilitate the monitoring of the implementation of follow-up measures.

The regulation re-confirms the principle that the sole objective of accident investigation is to prevent future accidents without attributing blame or liability. To this end, the regulation implements international standards on the protection of sensitive air safety information. In addition, while the regulation, according to the Commission, will not affect the prerogatives of the national courts and competent judicial authorities of member states, it will ensure that accident investigators have immediate access to evidence material and information, which may be relevant for the improvement of aviation safety. Finally, it will require that member states guarantee coordination between accident investigations and judicial proceedings.

The new regulation will also give passengers the possibility, when booking a flight, to indicate who should be contacted in case of an emergency. It will also require that airlines set up a system to establish a list of all persons on board involved in an aircraft accident, within a maximum of two hours following notification of the accident. Finally, member states and airlines will have to ensure assistance plans for victims of civil aviation accidents and their relatives.

The new regulation takes into account the legal and institutional changes that have taken place in the European Union since 1994. In particular, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), established in 2002, will be entitled, under strict conditions ensuring the absence of any conflict of interest, to participate as a technical advisor in accident investigations in order to ensure the safety of aircraft design.

TAGS: European Commission | law | aviation | legislation | standards | Europe

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