Jail for four with role in CJ2/MD-87 collision

 - March 22, 2007, 7:15 AM

Three Italian aviation officials and an air traffic controller have been sentenced to jail terms of between six and eight years after being convicted of manslaughter and negligence over the Oct. 8, 2001, fatal collision between a Cessna Citation CJ2 and a Scandinavian Airlines System McDonnell Douglas MD-87 at Milan Linate Airport. The April 16 verdict followed a recently published accident report that largely blamed the collision on pilot error on the part of the CJ2 crew, while also heaping heavy criticism on the airport and ATC authorities.

Linate Airport director Vincenzo Fusco and air traffic controller Paolo Zacchetti were both sentenced to eight years in jail. Six-year jail terms were given to Francesco Federico, who had overall management responsibility for both Milan airports, and Sandro Gualano, the former chief executive of the Italy’s EBAV ATC agency. Zecchetti’s attorneys said they will appeal the sentence.

A total of 118 people were killed in the accident, when the CJ2–operated by German executive charter firm Air Evex–collided with the MD-87, which was in the process of taking off from Linate’s Runway 36R. The fatalities included all crew and passengers on both aircraft, as well as four airport staff working in the baggage area of the airport’s main terminal building, into which the MD-87 crashed.

The CJ2 crew had mistakenly taxied onto the runway from taxiway R6, despite having been told to use taxiway R5. Poor communications between the pilots and local controllers failed to clear up the error and the Milan tower evidently had no idea that the CJ2 was on the wrong taxiway.

Visibility at the time of the accident (8:10 a.m.) was between 160 and 330 feet in thick fog. Both pilots had IFR ratings clearing them for flights in ILS Cat I conditions (1,800 feet RVR/200 feet DH). The investigators found “no evidence” of either pilot having had training for RVR conditions of below 1,300 feet, the conditions under which they had landed about an hour before the accident.

Air traffic controllers were specifically criticized for not informing the Citation crew that lower-visibility ILS Cat III operations were required at the time and for failing to ascertain whether the pilots were qualified to operate in such conditions.
Furthermore, the report suggested that although the Citation crew was permitted to taxi in the prevailing fog, they could not take off with visibility less than 1,300 feet.
The Citation was on a sales demonstration flight to Paris Le Bourget Airport. It was carrying a Cessna sales representative and a prospective client. The MD-87 was departing for Copenhagen, Denmark.

The three airport officials were held responsible for long delays in completing the installation of a ground radar at Linate, despite the fact that the equipment had been supplied several years earlier. The ground radar is now operational.