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IFATCA Think Safety Workshop – Nassau, Bahamas

The 10th Think Safety course just wrapped up in Nassau, Bahamas. The course was coordinated by the Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations and sponsored by the Bahahamian Air Navigation Service Division. The course brought together different stakeholders from the Bahamian aviation Industry.

Through an interactive workshop, facilitated by IFATCA’s EVP Europe Tom Laursen and Safety Culture expert Dr. Anthony Smoker, the participants had the opportunity to improve their understanding of safety processes, safety culture, and just culture.

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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.

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The Swiss Justice System is setting new unheard-of standards for the Aviation industry.

Swiss Justice system convicts an individual Air Traffic Controller for a system shortcoming.

Yesterday the Swiss Federal Court rejected the appeal by an Air Traffic Controller, implementing a sentence from the Federal Criminal Court and made the sentence legally binding.

IFATCA expresses our deepest support and sympathy with the involved Air Traffic Controller. We can only imagine the stress and pain that he is going through.

With this sentence the Swiss Justice system chose to go against all advice from the Aviation Industry. It will be interesting to see what the further consequences of such a decision will be, both nationally but also internationally. If individuals, which are part of a system and working to the best of their abilities, will have to live with the fear of criminal charges every time they go to work, it will be difficult to uphold the current efficiency of the aviation system as well as it will be difficult to attract employees.

IFATCA has severe concerns about the consequences of this sentence, both for the individual Air Traffic Controller, but moreover for the entire Aviation System. It is time for aviation professionals and society to join forces and fight this unfortunate development.

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Single European Sky III – Mission Possible?

Click the image to download the report (PDF)

The Single European Sky (SES) concept was initially introduced by the European Commission in 1999 to tackle the inefficiencies of the European Air Traffic Management (ATM) system and to ensure it could meet future demand for air travel effectively. However, despite the introduction of two regulatory frameworks and implementation initiatives, SES I in 2004 and SES II in 2009, we are still a long way away from the full implementation of the SES.

IFATCA has now compiled a whitepaper, in which it presents its views on the reasons behind that delay and gives five recommendations to achieve an interoperable, standardised and efficient SES and ATM system, without compromising safety. The main reasons behind the failure to implement the SES are the lack of an agreed long-term vision and strategy about the SES, an inefficient legal framework which reinforces the idea of short-term performance targets, the lack of political will amongst Member States to break free from national boundaries and the absence of technological and procedural standards to ensure Europe-wide interoperability.

IFATCA is committed to and has been supportingthe SES since its inception. We strongly believe that the SES is possible.However, the onus is on all the stakeholders to collaborate, leave vestedinterests aside and find a way forward, which avoids the mistakes of the pastand addresses the current problems of the ATM system. Only then will the SESbecome a reality.

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JATCA Launches ERM website

Our Jordanian colleagues have launched their website for the European Regional Meeting 2019. This will be held in Aqaba, the only coastal city in Jordan and the largest and most populous city on the Gulf of Aqaba, in southernmost Jordan.
Note that the site’s address is now http://erm2019.co and that registration requires a code. Instructions on how to obtain such a code were emailed earlier by the EVP-EUR to the MAs and European Reps. If you didn’t get that mail, please check within your MA first before contacting EVP-EUR or the IFATCA Office.

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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We are all one in the sky

Fifteen signatories, including IFATCA, support the European regulatory authorities in producing a robust, harmonised, EU-wide regulatory safety framework that enables the safe, secure, efficient and fair integration of drones in the aviation system, and fosters broad public acceptance.

In order to facilitate the integration of drones in very low-level airspace (i.e. below 500 ft) and preserve the high level of safety in the entire European airspace, we jointly call to accelerate the implementation of a number of measures as detailed in the declaration.

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