The sole objective of an air accident investigation is the prevention of future accidents; its purpose is not to apportion blame or liability. This mantra of air accident investigators combined with requirements to ensure the independence of investigations – all contained in ICAO Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention – affords investigators the opportunity to review crucial evidence and reach conclusions on the cause of an accident without fear of recrimination or the presence of undue pressure. Ultimately, these provisions allow the proper and independent investigation of accidents and encourage aviation safety to be furthered.
Recent high profile accidents have laid bare the pressures faced by investigators from within the investigation itself and external sources including the media, victims’ representatives, manufacturers, operators, and the spectre of blame proceedings. This article will study these stress points in the context of recent accidents and seek to illustrate why it is of fundamental importance to the independence of future air accident investigations, and the quality of the resultant safety outcomes, that such pressures are recognized and addressed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It will also consider whether the recently issued 11th edition of Annex 13 incorporating Amendment 15 achieves these aims.Air and Space Law