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European Parliament supports new rules for E.U. accident investigation
25 September 2010

The European Parliament supports a new regulation on investigation and prevention of aircraft accidents in the E.U. 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, the new regulation significantly reinforces the rights of victims of air accidents and their relatives.

The new regulation builds on the current Directive 94/56/EC establishing the fundamental principles governing the investigation of civil aviation accidents and incidents, adopted already in 1994. Today’s air accident investigations require more specialised expertise than a decade ago, and in this respect, better sharing of investigating resources between Member States is 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. The network will coordinate cooperation between national authorities, advise EU institutions on air safety matters and implement an annual work programme 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 at the improvement of aviation safety and ensuring that similar accidents do not re-occur. Each of these safety recommendations will have to be assessed by its addressee and replied to within a 90-day deadline. In addition, it 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 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.

It is essential that beyond investigating an accident, effective and immediate measures are in place to help them cope with such traumas. The new regulation will 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 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.

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