Latest Swiss ATC acquittal draws calls for regulatory change

A federal tribunal in Switzerland has acquitted the air traffic controller at the centre of a double take-off in March 2011 at Zurich Airport, clearing him of any allegations of negligent disruption of public transport.

On 15 March 2011 at 12.40 pm, two aircraft were cleared at Zurich Airport in rapid succession and began the departure on runways 16 and 28. The aircraft on runway 16 took off as scheduled, while the aircraft on runway 28 aborted its departure. The air traffic controller involved in the incident voluntarily reported this incident, which caused neither personal injury nor property damage.

Nevertheless, criminal proceedings were launched against him. In December 2014 and April 2016, he had to answer to the Bülach District Court for disrupting public transport and was acquitted. The public prosecutor’s office appealed against this and referred the case to the Zurich Superior Court. The latter found the air traffic controller guilty in December 2018. The air traffic controller successfully appealed against this ruling to the Federal Tribunal in Lausanne.

The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations said that while this was an excellent outcome for the colleague involved, there is still a long way to go for Switzerland to embrace the principles of Just Culture.

“One similar case is still pending,” IFATCA said, adding that safety can only improve when professionals can report issues without fear of retribution or prosecution. It added that the lengthy legal debate that placed undue stress upon the individual in the latest ruling was ‘beyond reasonable’. IFATCA said it encouraged all involved in making these necessary changes to the Swiss legal system to take note of the impact this has had on those affected and to approve the necessary changes without further delay.

Swiss air navigation service provider skyguide said it had taken note of this judgement. “Despite this gratifying acquittal,” said skyguide, “skyguide is convinced that Swiss law must provide a framework for the Just Culture safety culture that is practised in aviation.”

This enables employees to report errors without having to fear disciplinary consequences, provided that they have not been committed intentionally or through gross negligence. From these voluntary, honest and comprehensive reports, the organization can quickly derive improvements and take action.

skyguide said would continue to adhere to Just Culture principles in order to ensure safe and efficient air navigation services in Switzerland in the future.

There is no further appeal possible for the prosecutor.

1 Comment

Comments are closed.