For all the growing air traffic volumes, flying has never been as safe as it is today. The high safety levels are largely attributable to the aviation sector’s sophisticated safety culture, which provides the trust that is required to report errors extensively and without fear of punishment or penalty. The recent court proceedings against multiple skyguide air traffic controllers have shaken this basic principle. Skyguide is calling for legal regulation here that is better aligned to the realities of the aviation world.
Skyguide is convinced that a punishment-free reporting system enhances safety levels. Any skyguide employee who performs their duties and tasks to the best of their knowledge and abilities need fear no disciplinary repercussions for their actions. Notifications and reports aiming at improving safety especially must not be used as a basis for legal proceedings. What is not tolerated, however, are acts of gross negligence or wilful damage or harm. These “Just Culture” principles have been formally laid down in a guideline that is valid for all employees. By adopting and maintaining its Just Culture, skyguide has already made demonstrable further major progress on the safety front.
A skyguide air traffic controller was convicted by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court in July 2019 over an incident that had occurred in 2013 and had caused no damage or personal injury, which runs counter to international practice. A further controller was acquitted by the same court in October 2019 over an incident from 2011 which had also resulted in no damage or personal injury. In a third such case, a controller was convicted for a separation violation by the Bülach District Court.
Skyguide believes that these court cases make no contribution to enhancing safety. On the contrary: the skyguide safety culture is based on the in-depth reporting of incidents of all kinds. If the persons reporting must fear punishment or conviction, reporting quality and, in turn, the safety culture will be weakened – with inevitable consequences in aviation safety terms.
Skyguide launched a Just Culture campaign in 2019 to sensitise all the parties involved and to seek appropriate modifications to the relevant legal parameters. Skyguide has been joined in its campaign by weighty partners within the aviation community including SWISS, the REGA air ambulance company and Zurich and Geneva airports.
The first steps in the right direction were taken by the Swiss Parliament with Motion Candinas 18.3700, which is intended to transfer to the Swiss Confederation the responsibility for initiating criminal proceedings in the event of air accidents or serious incidents. The motion, which calls for all such cases to be consistently handled, has been approved by both chambers of the Swiss Parliament.
On a further positive note, Parliamentary Initiative Rutz 19.478, which proposes legal amendments that would anchor Just Culture in Swiss law, was submitted in mid-September 2019. Skyguide will continue to pursue its dialogue with all the parties involved in 2020, too, to help ensure the maintenance of a strong safety culture, in the interests of aviation safety.