Europe Takes First Step Toward Forming Accident Investigation Network

 - September 24, 2010, 10:13 AM
The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, voted on Tuesday to adopt a new regulation that calls for the establishment of a European network of air accident investigation offices.

The European Parliament on Tuesday voted to adopt a new regulation on aviation safety that could conceivably lead to the establishment of a Europe-wide counterpart of the U.S. NTSB. While each nation will continue to run its own investigation office for air transport accidents, the new regulation creates a “European network of civil aviation safety investigation authorities.”

The network will gather the heads of the investigation authorities in each of the member states and advise EU institutions on aviation safety. One aim is to “structure cooperation” between investigation offices, the European Commission, EASA and national civil aviation authorities.

Another major objective–developing a common investigation methodology–could set the conditions for a future European transportation safety board, although the regulation does not explicitly allude to such a long-term goal. Under the new regulation, existing air accident investigation branches must find ways to share resources and lend assistance to one another during a probe. Such help could take the form of lending personnel or equipment, for instance.

Meanwhile, the network should strive to strengthen the independence of the investigation bureaus. The regulation clearly mandates that “the members of the network shall neither seek nor accept instructions from any body which could affect the independent status of safety investigations.” Nevertheless, the EASA will serve as an observer, as long as its presence does not compromise independence.

The text of the bill came out of an agreement between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers–where governments are represented–under the co-decision process. Formal confirmation by the Council should come next. Then the regulation will appear in the Official Journal of the EU and come into force 20 days later.
The new regulation also addresses the highly sensitive relationship between air safety and judicial investigators. Again, it tries to preserve independence. For example, it states, “Where the judicial authority is entitled to seize any evidence, the investigator-in-charge shall have immediate and unlimited access to and use of such evidence.”