One step closer towards new EU rules for investigation and prevention of air accidents

The European Parliament's vote supporting a new regulation on investigation and prevention of accidents in civil aviation which paves the way to a first reading agreement between Parliament and Council. The new legislation will strengthen the independence and effectiveness of air accident investigations in the EU, promote cooperation between the accident investigation authorities, and ensure better follow-up of safety recommendations.

The new Regulation on investigation and prevention of air accidents put forward by the Commission on October 2009, builds on the current Directive 94/56/EC establishing the fundamental principles governing the investigation of civil aviation accidents and incidents, adopted already in 1994. The wealth of experience brought by these principles can now be used to improve and modernise the EU system.

The new EU regulation will ensure that a safety investigation into an accident is conducted free of pressure from regulatory or other authorities. Any statements taken from individuals by a safety investigator, as well as voice and image recordings inside cockpits and air traffic control units, will be used only for safety investigation, unless there is an overriding reason for disclosure to the judiciary. This will ensure that people can testify without fear to the safety investigators, whose purpose is not to attribute blame but to establish the facts.

The new rules establish a European Network of Civil Aviation Safety Investigation Authorities, a natural continuation of the existing informal cooperation between air accident investigation bodies of Member States. Each Member State will also set up a civil aviation accident emergency plan and ensure that all airlines based on its territory have a plan to assist victims of accidents and their relatives.

The law also requires airlines to produce a list of those on board the plane within two hours of an accident. Before a flight, passengers will be entitled to name a person to be informed in the event of an accident.

The new regulation takes into account the legal and institutional changes which took place in the EU since 1994. In particular, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), established in 2002, will be entitled, under strict conditions ensuring the absence of any conflict of interest, to participate as a technical advisor in accident investigations in order to ensure the safety of aircraft design.

The aviation safety system in the EU is based on close collaboration between the Commission, EASA, Eurocontrol, aviation authorities of Member States, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and other aviation undertakings. Over the years, the EU's air safety policy has been strengthened. Common safety rules for all European operators – the establishment of EASA and a common list of unsafe airlines whose operations are either forbidden or restricted in the EU – are among its key achievements. The Commission also works actively with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and foreign aviation authorities to improve air safety worldwide.