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Revised SES2+ Package Press Release

Following the publication of the revised legislative SES package, known as SES 2+, on 23rd of September 2020 and the upcoming Council of Transport Ministers on Monday 28th of September 2020, IFATCA submits the following.

The impact of the COVID -19 sanitary crisis on society at large and aviation in particular is of unknown dimension. Traffic recovery will depend on the medical progress and it might be a dire and long way to achieve pre-COVID traffic numbers. The proposed legislative package is astonishingly rehashing old principles which have in the past not provided the needed impetus for a reform of the Single European Sky.  

In the view of the professional air traffic controllers / sector, the proposal of the European Commission will create additional burden on the current system and if traffic figures raise again will push the sector further down the road of fragmentation and a slowed down reform process. In a situation like the current one a legislative package using the strength of the current system and provide legislative support to raise out of the crisis in a better shape would have provided the needed support to create a competitive and modern European Air Traffic Management infrastructure. Europe deserves better to ensure the stability and resilience of its air transport industry.

The proposed reform package relies on the same mechanisms and instruments which failed to bring any reform in the past:

  • Functional Airspace Blocks; instead of working towards a seamless sky as recommended by the Wise Persons Group the proposed way forward will increase fragmentation.  
  • The cost recovery and charging mechanisms has shown its fragility it the current crisis.  IFATCA is proposing that part or all of the activities involved in the provision of ANS are funded independently of the current “airspace users pay all” principle. The possibility of creating an infrastructure fund at multinational level to finance ANS provision should be considered. Such a hybrid approach would prevent a situation where States have to step in to financially support commercialized or privatized ANSPs which run out of funds when traffic significantly decreases (experienced in 2001 and during the current pandemic).
  • To propose the future independent economical regulator under the helm of the European Aviation Safety Agency is an error. It undermines the credibility of EASA as an agency for safety as it requires at institutional level the guardian of safety to make compromises with safety.
  • Instead of providing a sustainable future funding scheme, which create a sound Air Traffic Management infrastructure the proposed Union wide unit rate without a proper backup by member states will rely on the continuous uninterrupted growth of air traffic.  
  • The current crisis has highlighted that Air Traffic Management is an essential service which needs to function properly in any given situation. To this end, a robust and standardized infrastructure needs first to be set up. Liberalisation and market mechanisms as proposed in the EC proposal is the wrong strategy to achieve this.

Following the reports of the European Court of Auditor and the Recommendations of the Wise Person Group, IFATCA hoped that the European Commission would use the current crisis to come up with a real adequate proposal for a needed reform process in the sector. Is it is disappointing to see that this is not the case. Europe can only become one of the global actors if it can rely on a robust infrastructure in aviation. This needs to be built, including new technology like artificial intelligence, machine learning and possibly remote operations on a sound and commonly agreed and shared vision.  

IFATCA and its professional representatives are always standing by to assist in developing such necessary changes and to be a driving force to defend the implementation of sound solutions: a performant European ATM system for the benefit of all stakeholders, including all ATM professionals.


IFATCA EU 373/2017 Regulation Workshop

On the initiative of our Lithuanian and Latvian air traffic controllers’ associations, IFATCA held a workshop on the implementation of EU regulation 373/2017 at Oro Navigacija in Vilnius, Lithuania from the 6-7th of January.

The workshop was a mix of presentations and group work with participants from Poland, Rumania, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Lithuania and Eurocontrol. Fatigue, rostering, stress, CISM and the testing of psychoactive substance were among the topics discussed.

For more details on the regulation and its impact, IFATCA published a checklist for Member Associations to verify their ANSP/Country’s compliance with European Regulation 2017/373 on stress, fatigue and psychoactive substances. While obviously most relevant to European associations, it may be of use to others to crosscheck how they are doing in respect to this regulation.


IFATCA & IFALPA highlight concerns on Just Culture

The first ICAO European Aviation System Planning Group (EASPG) is currently being held in Paris, France. Our EVP Europe, Tom Laursen, presented a joint IFATCA-IFALPA paper on the effects of criminalisation of incidents in the context of Safety Culture. The paper and its conclusions were supported by many Sates representatives and the meeting plans to adapt the detailed conclusions into firm recommendations.

The ICAO EUR office also suggested that they should start workshops on this. It’s another important initiative taken by IFALPA and IFATCA to try to advance Just Culture in aviation as a means to improve safety.

The report can be found here.


Swiss Controller Acquitted

It is with great relief that IFATCA has learned that the Federal Tribunal in Lausanne, Switzerland, today acquitted our ATCO colleague in the case of a double take-off on 15 March 2011 at Zurich Airport. He has been cleared of any allegations of negligent disruption of public transport. There is no further appeal possible for the prosecutor.

While this is obviously excellent news, particularly for the colleague involved, there is still a long way to go for Switzerland to embrace the principles of Just Culture. One similar case is still pending and above all, the applicable laws urgently need to be revised to that a safety reporting system can trigger new court cases. As is widely accepted, safety can only improve when professionals can report issues without fear of retribution or prosecution.

There’s also a major concern on how long this legal debate took: more than eight years of undue stress placed upon an individual is beyond reasonable. IFATCA encourages all involved in making these necessary changes to the Swiss legal system to take note of the impact this has had on those affected and to approve the necessary changes without further delay.

Read the press release from skyguide here.


IFATCA European Regional Meeting in Aqaba, Jordan – Day 2

On its second day, the IFATCA European Regional Meeting in Aqaba discussed controller training in Europe. According to ICAO, there will be a need to train and validate an extra 23 500 controllers in the next 20 years to fulfil vacancies created by retirements and cope with traffic increase forecast. The training organization GLOBAL ATS of Denmark explained that with the new young generation, we need to adapt training to them if we want to succeed.

Then Iacopo Prissinotti, the new Eurocontrol Network manager, told the meeting that despite an increase in traffic of 1,3 %, the average delay decreased by 10% in 2019 so far, but at 1,8 min per fight, it remained well above expectations.

He advocated more discipline in the network, especially regarding flight plan adherence.

Finally Helena Sjöström, IFATCA Deputy President, promoted her newly created Equality, Diversity and Ethics Task Force (EDETF).

Iacopo Prissinotti, EUROCONTROL Network Manager


IFATCA European Regional Meeting in Aqaba, Jordan – Day 1

The ERM started in the Jordan town of Aqaba and was opened by the CEO of the Jordan CAA who welcomed around 100 delegates representing 32 European Associations. The ERM was preceeded by a meering of the representatives working for SESAR and a workshop.

Mustafa Abu Farah, chairman of JATCA,
Captain Haitham Misto, CEO of Jordan CAA and
Tom Laursen opening the ERM

During the day a large part of the discussions were concentrating around Just Culture and its effects on Europeans controllers after the Swiss judiciary guilty verdicts imposed on Controllers after incidents.

The representative of Switzerland controllers gave a long briefing of the status of the situation and IFATCA EVP Europe detailed the actions the meeting will be taking, which will include a presentation at the next ICAO EASPG Meeting and information papers on this subject.


European Aviation Artificial Intelligence High-Level Group

The Kickoff meeting of the European Aviation Artificial Intelligence High-Level Group took place at the EUROCONTROL headquarters in Brussels on 16 September 2019. This group, formed with experts from different aviation areas, is tasked to study how Artificial Intelligence can be included in ATM. Their ambitious target is to produce a report on the subject by the end of the year including recommendations. IFATCA is included in the team and will ensure that the operational point of view is covered in the final report.


Just Culture: Learning or Punishing?

By Job Brüggen, Safety Officer of LVNL (Air Traffic Control The Netherlands).

Our feature articles on Just Culture, triggered by the conviction of an Air Traffic Controller in Switzerland, aim to trigger thoughts and ideas for how to proceed. This article is written as a personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of LVNL or that of IFATCA.

The Federal Court has given its verdict and this time it is final. The conviction of a Swiss controller strongly stirred the aviation community. For missing a “readback/hearback”, two aircraft came closer than our standards prescribe, and two electronic safety nets, STCA for the controller on the ground and TCAS for the pilots in the air saved the day, as they were designed to do. The controller on the ground was found guilty, by ‘unconscious negligence’, of disturbance of public transport and fined 60 days. End of story?

Let us ask ourselves what the effect of this verdict will be to all professionals in jobs that are meaningful to the general public and also carries certain risks to the same general public. Policemen, doctors, nurses, train drivers, pilots, controllers are professionals , but also humans. And humans make mistakes. If we want these people to perform these jobs for us, we must find a way how to deal with these inevitable errors.

I reckon there are five objectives of penal law:

  1. Specific prevention – to prevent the wrongdoer acting again by teaching him/her a lesson;
  2. General prevention – to deter other people not to do the same thing. That is why punishments or executions used to be very public;
  3. To add misery to the perpetrator – compensating for the wrong act in the view of (and on behalf of) the general public and underlining the privilege of the State to enforce the law, lest vendetta’s or family gangs would have its way again;
  4. To compensate for the bad things that have become upon those that were suffering from the bad act. That is, if compensation is at all reasonably possible;
  5. To show to the general public that the law itself is being upheld – and thus upkeeping faith that the justice system actually works.

Not being a lawyer, I am sure there are more goals that the justice system serves, but these five are generally accepted to be laudable and indeed useful for a society to maintain order in a country or state.

Specific prevention and general prevention (objectives one and two) are unlikely to be served well here. Missing a readback/hearback is quite common in aviation and happens hundreds of times every day. Communication through half-duplex VHF channels is arguably one of the most critically weakest links in our system – it still amazes me we are using it. The aviation community is at best reminded that pilots and controllers have indeed serious accountabilities for ensuring safety. But they are humans and not infallible – the very reason why STCA and TCAS were invented anyway.

Objectives three and four (adding misery and compensating) completely miss the point here. There were no casualties hence what was there to compensate for? The Federal Court states that danger was created and I think nobody will dispute that. Flying inherently carries risk and risk already starts when the pilot gets out of bed at four in the morning to get to the airport and prepare for the flight.

That leaves us with objective number five: to show to uphold the law. How many people will feel more comfortable with the idea that Swiss controllers may report fewer incidents for fear of prosecution? It is legitimate to assume that Swiss controllers already report less or with less details than their colleagues in other countries, thus hampering the self-learning abilities that made aviation – inherently risky – so incredibly safe.

Note that nowhere I judge upon the acts of the controller or pilot whether they were good, normal, weak, reckless or exceptionally stupid. The Swiss judicial system, ticking like a Swiss watch, concluded that the behavior of the controller was negligent and not in accordance to professional standards, brutally brushing aside fundamental systemic questions: was the behavior of the controller seen as ‘normal’ in the community of controllers? Are other controllers experiencing the same events? Does the system elude controllers to fall into a spring loaded trap waiting to snap shut? What is the likelihood of this happening again? With this verdict, the answer to how we can prevent this systemic safety flaw from appearing again will be seriously hampered – not a pleasant thought for such a civilized country as Switzerland. My favorite phrase ‘learning is safer than punishing’ surely does apply.

“Never let a crisis go to waste” . It takes insight and courage to question as to why things are done the way they are. With the final verdict there now is a great opportunity for the Swiss people to reflect and ask themselves what they prefer: learning or punishing?

Job Brüggen
23 July 2019

30 kmh

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.


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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