The New Age...It's Coming!

Harmonization with the European Aviation Safety Agency

Proprietary information?
One observer in our industry said, “We view this strategic partnership between the United States and the European community as a real milestone that will advance our shared safety visions.” You tell me what shared safety visions means …

FAA (acting) Administrator Sturgell said, “Safety data exchange would become routine and more comprehensive.”

Did anyone think to ask Southwest Airlines, or American Airlines, or Continental, or others if they thought it was a good idea to exchange sensitive safety information with European competition? We have been told continually that safety data is a proprietary item to our various airlines. I would have to say that it is provided to the FAA on the assumption that it would be used internally within the FAA and not passed on to EASA or anyone else without specific permission of the air carrier.

French criminal case
The example of the criminal trial now in progress in France is a case in point. Few have noticed that a French judge has ordered that Continental Airlines and some technicians, engineers, and others stand trial in a French court for manslaughter regarding the criminal investigation into the Concorde crash in July of 2000 at Paris. Continental is charged with criminal negligence involved with the maintenance of the DC-10 from which a piece of metal fell. The Concorde then ran over the piece of metal on the runway. A wheel threw the piece of metal up into the Concorde wing and it caused a fuel leak that destroyed the aircraft and killed 113 passengers and crew.

Now, the question again arises about safety and investigative information regarding this accident under the terms of the BASA agreement. Does all the safety information that might have been shared or would have been shared under BASA enter into the evidence presented in this criminal trial?

Much has been said in the United States about using safety investigation data as evidence in criminal trials. We have had a number of criminal trials in this country regarding maintenance activities. If there is a free exchange of investigative information under the terms of the new BASA agreement, what will happen to this data when the criminal trials start in Europe against American citizens and corporations?

The use of aviation safety and investigation data acquired during crash investigations has long sought to be prevented from being used in criminal trials both in the United States and abroad, with little success to date. The theory is that the threatened use of this investigative data as evidence against defendants would act to prevent a full and open investigation of aircraft accidents. There is no dispute on this point!

The criminalization of conduct in aircraft accidents and the use of safety data obtained through so-called bilateral agreements should be specifically excluded from any form of criminal proceeding within the EU and U.S. systems.

What do you think? Send your comments to

Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an A&P certificate and is an ATP rated pilot. E-mail:

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