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Independence of Aviation Safety Investigation Authorities: Keeping the Foxes from the Henhouse

63 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2011  

Paul Stephen Dempsey

McGill University

Date Written: April 1, 2010


Among the most important means of improving safety is to objectively determine the causes of aviation accidents so that appropriate action can be taken to prevent similar events from recurring in the future. The determination of causation can have an adverse political, economic, punitive, and reputational effect upon individuals, airlines, manufacturers, air navigation service providers, airports, maintenance companies, and governmental institutions. Hence, many institutions and individuals are motivated to try to influence the outcome of the investigation.

Article 26 of the Chicago Convention requires a State in which an aviation accident occurs (involving death or serious injury, or involving a serious technical defect in the aircraft or air navigation facilities) to investigate the event. The Chicago Convention obliges the 190 ratifying States to implement the standards promulgated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Annexes to the Convention through their legislation, regulations, policies, and organizational structures.

Annex 13 addresses aviation accident investigations. Annex 13 provides that "the accident investigation authority shall have independence in the conduct of the investigation and have unrestricted authority over its conduct...." It also recommends that any court or administrative action designed to apportion blame or impose liability be autonomous from the accident or incident investigation. Annex 13 designates the State where the accident occurred as the appropriate body for designating the Investigator in Charge. lCAO advises that, "The accident investigation authority must be strictly objective and totally impartial and must be perceived to be so. It should be established in such a way that it can withstand political or other interference or pressure."

Keywords: Aviation accident investigations, Aviation safety, interested parties in aviation accident, Article 26 of the Chicago Convention, Annex 13 of ICAO, Independence and autonomy of aviation accident investigatory bodies

Suggested Citation

Dempsey, Paul Stephen, Independence of Aviation Safety Investigation Authorities: Keeping the Foxes from the Henhouse (April 1, 2010). Journal of Air Law and Commerce, Vol. 75, No. 2, p. 223, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Paul Stephen Dempsey (Contact Author)

McGill University ( email )

3690 Peel Street
Montreal, Quebec H3AIW9

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