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 ask: 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.


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.


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 supporting the SES since its inception. We strongly believe that the SES is possible. However, the onus is on all the stakeholders to collaborate, leave vested interests aside and find a way forward, which avoids the mistakes of the past and addresses the current problems of the ATM system. Only then will the SES become a reality.


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 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.


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.

Hoping for a miracle seems to be the strategy of the the European Commission!

Europe’s Staff organisations have published an open letter to the aviation stakeholders within the Single European Sky concerning the proposed targets for ANSPs in the the period from 2020-24 – the so-called reporting period 3 (RP3)

In essence, the European Commission, the Airlines and the Performance Review Body (PRB) don’t seem to acknowledge that there is an obvious connection between the immense focus on cost reduction in RP1 and RP2 and the current delay situation in Europe.

It is clear that the Commission uses the same thinking for RP3 as used for RP1 and RP2. The staff organisations predict that the results will be the same: similar or more delay, underinvestment in the areas where there is an urgent need, a continued disharmony between the needs of the airlines and the performance of the ANSPs, continued distrust between the main stakeholders while there is no visible benefit for the passenger.

Read the full letter here.


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.

Annual Report from the Expert Group on the Human Dimension

The Expert Group on the Human Dimension (EGHD) of the Single European Sky (SES) was formally established by the European Commission in 2017 to advise on the implementation and development of SES from a human dimension perspective. It represents the opinion of all frontline operators and support staff who are impacted by the latest regulatory, operational and technological changes resulting from SES. The group is co-chaired by Paul Neering, an experienced IFATCA Representative. Within the group, IFATCA is represented by Anders Liebl (DK). They have just published their 2018 Annual Report, which gives an excellent overview of the importance of this group.

Letter to Argentinian Government

IFATCA has addressed the government of Argentina, through its President – His Excellency Mauricio Macri. We are extremely concerned about the disrespect for international safety culture standards at the Aeroparque Jorge Newberry airport. Following a single complaint from one pilot regarding an event where safety was not compromised in any way, the controllers working at the time were removed from their position, seemingly as a disciplinary measure. The information we have suggested they were replaced by staff who may not have been licensed or rated for the positions they occupied, clearly creating a serious breach of the applicable safety levels.

The full letter, in Spanish and in English can be found here.


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