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Just Culture: Where are we going now?

IFATCA will be publishing several short articles on our website in the coming days. The articles will be asking important questions about the current status of Just culture triggered by the conviction of an Air Traffic Controller in Switzerland. It is the purpose to trigger thoughts and ideas for how to proceed.

To describe one of the operational dilemmas that convicting individuals for being involved in incidents, we would like to tell a story that could happen to any of us:

Following the Swiss Federal Court verdict of an air traffic controller for an incident where nobody was hurt and no material damage was done, a conflict materialized between the duty of the judiciary and the needs of a safety-relevant reporting system in complex systems. Through this, aviation is subjected to a stress test.

You are driving your car on a small road in the countryside you are not familiar with. You find yourself suddenly driving 70 km/h by some houses with small children playing on the sidewalk. You suddenly realise you are in a village, but you missed the road sign. Looking back, you see it is there but the sign was mostly hidden by branches from a tree that outgrow towards the street.

You are a responsible driver and want to prevent somebody else falling in the same trap and possibly hitting a child, so you drive to the local authorities (a police station) and report your experience, arguing, one day someone might hit a kid involuntarily. The mayor is grateful and will trim the tree, the parents of the local kids probably agree, but the police officer says: you were driving 70 in a 50 km/h zone? Here you go: a 150 EUR fine!   

So, tell me, what are you going to do next time you find yourself in a similar situation? Go to the police again?

Is this the way we want to go in the future of Air Traffic Control?

It looks like today, the common law, which is applicable to every citizen, is also applied to an air traffic controller who reports an incident. If this is the case then should you do the same as most normal citizens do: i.e. not report your own mistakes or violation of laws to the authorities, whether it is your regulator or the police. You should not be incriminating yourself, there are even laws for this (like the USA 5th amendment).

The danger of all this:

Once again, common sense means reporting incidents to prevent they become accidents. Our authorities are implementing Just Culture to protect us from disciplinary actions when dealing with incidents reporting and investigating, but this should also have been extended to the judiciary level. Failure to do so, will be treating us just like normal citizens before the law, but then, following that logic, we should act like most normal citizens too, and this means keeping our mistakes for ourselves.

We need to make the case for a change in the law for professionals, similar to the recent Italian laws for medical doctors; You should not be punished for doing your job according the best practices and for reporting and talking about your honest mistakes while performing your job. But this needs to be done FOR EVERY country that wants to apply Just Culture and a free incident reporting system.

Achieving this is one of IFATCAs top priorities.

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Bridging the gap – are we fighting windmills?

IFATCA will be publishing several short articles on our website in the coming days. The articles will be asking important questions about the current status of Just culture triggered by the conviction of an Air Traffic Controller in Switzerland. It is the purpose to trigger thoughts and ideas for how to proceed.

This article explains why we need to continue pushing for Just Culture and educate the Judiciary and prosecutors.

“Despite the efforts to bridge the gap between aviation safety (ultimately the passengers’ safety) and the judiciary, the Just Culture concept is challenged by the recent Swiss Federal Court decision.

These court cases in Switzerland have allowed Just Culture to be debated in public, with an understanding of the Just Culture concept and the acceptance that the Swiss legal framework has to change in order to be compliant with the ICAO and EU regulations and to continue the improvement of aviation safety.

A contribution factor to this could be the joint training for aviation experts and judicial authorities provided by Eurocontrol and the international umbrella organisation of air traffic controllers, IFATCA.

A few years ago such a debate would not have been possible as the notion and the importance of the Just Culture would have been unknown to most of the public and the administration of justice.”

Click here for the full article

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Is the Justice System ready to adapt to a more connected and interrelated world?

IFATCA will be publishing several short articles on our website in the coming days. The articles will be asking important questions about the current status of Just culture triggered by the conviction of an Air Traffic Controller in Switzerland. It is the purpose to trigger thoughts and ideas for how to proceed. In the second article we are asking: Is the Justice System Ready to adapt to a more connected and interrelated world?

Is the Justice System Ready to adapt to a more connected and interrelated world?

On 12 April 2013, two aircraft, a Ryanair and a TAP Air Portugal, unintentionally converged in the complex airspace over the Napf region (Lucerne, Switzerland). The safety nets on the ground and in the air worked as planned, so that the situation could be defused quickly. There was no personal injury or damage to property. In may 2018, the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona sentenced the air traffic controller on duty to a heavy fine for negligent disruption of public transport. The Federal Court has now confirmed this ruling. This is the first time in Switzerland that an air traffic controller has been convicted with legal effect.

The aviation industry has always been an industry where collaboration and connectivity has been at the forefront to achieve improvements. Especially safety and efficiency has been at the centre of attention. Improvements have been achieved through enhanced equipment, standards and rules, interdependence between many stakeholders, implementation of safety nets and collaboration between operators at the sharp end. In short it is fair to say that the Aviation Industry relies on teamwork to make it possible for the flying public to move from A to B.

Sidney Dekker (author of several books and articles about Just Culture) put it this way, ‘It takes teamwork to succeed as well as it takes teamwork to fail’. If this is true, then we have to ask ourselves whether it makes sense to convict and fine individuals for trying to do their everyday job? Of course, this doesn’t include cases where operators at the “sharp end” are guilty of wilful misconduct in any form. Such cases amount to acts of sabotage, gross negligence or substance abuse etcetera. But for all other cases where individuals, who happen to be the person executing and implementing the work of the team, it is time to think differently.

The justice system in Switzerland responded to an incident with the conviction of an individual. That might be the right thing to do according to the world of justice and courts. But if that is the case, Switzerland and maybe other countries, has a problem in a world with teamwork and connectivity and how they handle incidents and accidents. It is time to change the Justice System to adapt to a more and more connected and dependent world.

This verdict has implications for the everyday handling of air traffic in Switzerland and maybe Europe-wide. It has already led to a reduction in airspace capacity in and around Switzerland and depending on the on-going cases, (there are two more pending at the courts in Switzerland) it might have permanent consequences for the air traffic.

Fortunately, there are possible solutions to the problem. We suggest that justice systems start to look for systems problems instead of holding individuals responsible for systems mishaps and failures. Justice systems in Germany as well as in the Unites States are using corporate responsibility in cases where a system has affected society negatively.

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Are we burying Just Culture for good?

IFATCA will be publishing several short articles on our website in the coming days. The articles will be asking important questions about the current status of Just Culture triggered by the conviction of an Air Traffic Controller in Switzerland. It is the purpose to trigger thoughts and ideas for how to proceed.  In the first article we are asking:

Are we burying Just Culture for good?

On 12 April 2013, two aircraft of the Irish Ryanair and the Portuguese TAP unintentionally converged in the complex airspace over the Napf region (Lucerne, Switzerland). The safety nets on the ground and in the air worked as planned, so that the situation could be defused quickly. There was no personal injury or damage to property. In May 2018, the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona sentenced the air traffic controller on duty to a heavy fine for negligent disruption of public transport. The Federal Court has now confirmed this ruling. This is the first time in Switzerland that an air traffic controller has been convicted with legal effect.

After decades of hard work convincing all parties of the benefits of Just Culture in Aviation and having seen the first safety benefits, a single court decision is setting us back significantly and can endanger the continued incremental improvement of safety.

The judiciary is not necessarily the biggest issue. Judges are applying the law or interpreting the law in a way they believe would protect society, which is their job, by convicting an individual Air Traffic Controller for a system shortcoming. The intent is to ensure the safety of the travelling public.

But are they really protecting the travelling public? IFATCA is a firm believer of the contrary: The conviction of professionals reporting their incidents is in fact endangering the travelling public by discouraging reporting and therefore making air travel less safe. 

It is time to reflect about our own role and the role of other key stakeholders.

Did we start at the wrong end? We basically made an error at the start in promoting Just Culture and its safety benefits without having paid enough attention to the fragile arrangements that Just Culture is built upon. We have no protection in place against the current case.

We indeed failed to link the Just Culture implementation to the judiciary from the outset. We were tempted by promises of good intentions and nice wishes but clearly those did not materialise. In fact, the Regulators (both in the EU and at State level) failed to link Just Culture implementation to a change in the laws of the various countries that would protect the professionals, reporting their mistakes, from prosecution.

All is not lost yet. The ball is in the camp of the Swiss State. This should become, as a matter of urgency, the first task of the State: to individually address this issue, and propose/present changes in the National law to decriminalise incidents reported under Just Culture. IFATCA is formally asking for this.

IFATCA fears that, if there is a failure to correct this rapidly, Air Traffic Controller Associations would have no other option at some point than to ask their individual members (the Air Traffic Controllers) to only report a minimum and restrict cooperation with incident investigations, in order not to incriminate themselves and avoid prosecution. This fear of reporting is likely to spread to other professions in aviation and will undermine decades of progress. This must be prevented, urgently, for the safety of the travelling public.

Tunisian Association hosts Think Safety Workshop

The Tunisian Air Traffic Controllers’ Association is hosting the IFATCA Think Safety workshop. This hugely sought-after event is our Federation’s most effective tool for expanding awareness of just culture and a core understanding of systemic safety concepts.

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European Excellence Award

During the 2019 World ATM Congress​ in Madrid, the International Federation of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Associations (IFATSEA), the European Cockpit Association (ECA) and the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) have jointly been awarded the Single European Sky Excellence Award.

The European Commission attributed the award to the “complete commitment from staff to delivering the essential services needed to enable capacity and deliver safety.”

Needless to say that as representatives of air traffic controllers worldwide, IFATCA is honoured to share this award with our engineering and pilot colleagues. We also want to explicitly recognise all of our members for their continued commitment and skill with which they uphold the highest safety standards in often challenging circumstances.

IFATCA wants to thank the European Commission for recognising the vital role the front-line operators play in keeping aviation the safest mode of transport.

Marc Baumgartner (left, IFATCA SES Coordinator), Costas Christoforou (middle, IFATSEA Regional Director Europe) and Loïc Michel (right, ECA Technical Policy Advisor) accepting the award on behalf of European staff.
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International Women’s day 2019

Women and Equality in Air Traffic Control

There is a growing worldwide shortage of air traffic controllers, a profession which is key to a safe aviation industry. Forecasts from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a United Nations specialized agency, predict a shortfall of over 40,000 controllers over the next 20 years.

Many of IFATCA’s Member Associations also report a decreasing interest from qualified applicants to pursue a career in ATC. As with aviation in general, women remain significantly under-represented in our profession. Given the gender imbalance, investing in making the profession more attractive to women could tap into a currently underused demographic, which currently risks missing out on up to 50 % of the recruitment base.

In most countries, female air traffic controllers remain a minority. While an increasing number of women have been working as controllers over the past decades, there is still a significant imbalance, even in the public perception of the job. While a controller requires specific skills, none of these correlates directly to gender. Our profession is generally open to female applicants, however greater effort is needed to make it more accessible and attractive to women, and to encourage them to apply.

The air traffic control community consists of an extremely diverse mix of people, in which women should be proportionally represented. One of the enablers for this is to have role models. In other words:

If She Can See It, She Can Be It

As the professional organisation representing over 50,000 air traffic controllers worldwide, IFATCA joins other organisations on March 8th, the International Women’s Day. We acknowledge the contributions of all female colleagues to our unique profession. At the same time, we recognise the women who are at the start of their career in ATC and encourage those that are considering pursuing one.

IFATCA highlights the importance of role models to help convince new generations of women that they have an essential role in aviation and in air traffic control. We call upon employers and lawmakers to ensure an equal opportunity environment exists in recruitment, training and career opportunities. Any existing bias should be removed, aiming for a more balanced gender distribution in air traffic control, and aviation in general.

13th Air Navigation Conference – IFATCA’s delegation at work for you at ICAO!

The 13th Air Navigation Conference took place in Montréal, Canada, from 9 to 19 October 2018. It was attended by 1022 participants, from 116 States and 37 International Organizations. Over 300 working papers and information papers were presented and discussed in two committees.

Committee A discussed the technical items of the Conference: air navigation global strategy, enabling and enhancing the global air navigation system, implementing the global air navigation system and the role of planning and implementation regional groups (PIRGs) and finally, emerging issues. Committee B handled all safety related items of the Conference: organizational safety issues, operational safety risks and emerging safety issues.

IFATCA was well represented at the Conference by a delegation comprising the Deputy President, Duncan Auld, the Executive Vice-President Professional, Peter Van Rooyen, the Executive Vice-President Technical, Ignacio Baca, and the Liaison Officer to ICAO, Jean-François Lepage.

IFATCA presented 7 working papers, in partnership with other international organizations, on global runway safety action plans, on the concept of acceptable level of safety performance, on the integration of drones within ATM, on cybersecurity, on remote ATS, on commercial space operations, and on the protection of safety data and safety information.

IFATCA also intervened on eight occasions to share the views of the Federation on a variety of topics: role of the human in the development of the GANP, proposed update of Doc 9426 (ATS Planning Manual), certification of ANSPs, remote ATS, challenges in aviation phraseology, investments in ATM, coordination of flights through controlled airspace for space operations, management of fatigue for ATCOs, and global ANS personnel shortage.

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Competency-Based Training and Assessment (CBTA) Workshop – Buenos Aires, Argentina

The first IFATCA Competency-Based Training and Assessment Workshop was held at the ATEPSA Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 10-11 September 2018.

The event was attended by more than 35 participants from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Panama, The Bahamas, and Trinidad & Tobago.

IFATCA would like to sincerely thank ATEPSA, and in particular Eva Rios, for the extraordinary organization of this event; her incredible dedication ensured the success of the workshop. ATEPSA graciously provided well equipped facilities, refreshments and meals for all participants and instructors.

ICAO SID/STAR Implementation Support Team (ISSIST) officially launched!

SIDs and STARs have proven to be effective means of ensuring that the flow of traffic to/from an airport is as efficient as possible and that potential conflicts are procedurally and safely managed. This is particularly so when combined with optimum airspace design in a PBN environment. Additionally, they provide a means of prescribing and representing the large amount of information associated with the lateral and vertical profiles an aircraft is required to fly. 

However, over time, some of the benefits of SIDS and STARS have been eroded as diverging and sometimes conflicting meanings were attached to elements of the phraseology. In particular, there were reports of significant variances in the application of level and speed restrictions, leading to misunderstandings between flight crews and controllers, a number of incidents and a very real safety risk.

To mitigate this risk and at the request of the aviation community, work was undertaken by the ICAO ATM Operations Panel (ATMOPSP), with extensive consultation throughout the development process. The agreed outcome led to new SID/STAR phraseologies that became applicable in 2016.

Click here for more information

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