When it comes to decriminalization of aviation accidents, the world seems to take one step forward and two back.
On one hand, a French appellate court recently overturned the manslaughter verdict against Continental Airlines resulting from a crash more than a decade ago. The initial ruling held Continental liable for the July 2000 accident on the grounds that maintenance errors caused a 16-inch piece of titanium to fall from one of the airlines DC-10s during its takeoff roll from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
A trailing Air France Concorde stuck the metal fragment and burst into flames as it took off. The ensuing crash killed all 109 on the supersonic jet and four on the ground.
The November 29 appeal found that even though some Continental mechanics did make mistakes repairing the DC-10, these were not sufficient grounds to lay complete responsibility for the crash on the airline.
“We’re very pleased that courts are recognizing that professional human error does not amount to criminal conduct, even where it can lead to catastrophic consequences,” said Flight Safety Foundation general counsel Ken Quinn. “The tragedy of this accident and others is only compounded by decades-long efforts to find someone to blame, rather than focus on human factors, training and technology to make sure that tragedy does not reoccur.”
Fast forward to October 9 of this year, when Brazil announced it would retry the two American pilots of an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet that collided with a Gol Airlines 737 in 2006 over the Amazon. The executive jet landed safety, but the airliner crashed into the jungle, killing all 154 aboard.
The two pilots were allowed to leave Brazil two months after the crash, but were convicted in absentia last year and sentenced to 52 months in prison. The sentence was later commuted to community service in the U.S.
But now the Brazilian prosecutors have appealed the sentence and have asked that it be increased to 69 months in prison, without the possibility of being replaced by community service.
The Brazilian prosecutor claims the defendants kept the Legacy’s anti-collision system turned off for almost one hour, causing the accident. The two pilots have insisted the TCAS and transponder were never turned off, and deny any wrongdoing.
Following the French decision, FSF’s Quinn said, “Undue prosecutorial and judicial interference can not only create further victims of accidents, but more importantly, harm the integrity and timeliness of the accident investigation process, with an adverse effect on aviation safety.”