- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NICOSIA, CYPRUS (AP) - Civil aviation authorities are only told about 20 percent of dangerous flight incidents because pilots and air traffic controllers are afraid of losing their jobs or being prosecuted, a top European air safety official said Tuesday.

Eurocontrol official Erik Merckx said some countries are misusing laws to prosecute those who report problems. He did not specify which countries he was referring to.

Eurocontrol oversees flight safety and efficiency in its 38 member states, which are almost all European but include countries such as Turkey and Armenia.

“In many countries, pilots and also air traffic controllers are afraid to mention things that go wrong because they can be prosecuted and go to jail,” Merckx told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a European air safety conference in the Cypriot capital.

Reporting such incidents is obligatory under Eurocontrol regulations.

He said underreporting problems could hamper efforts to improve flight safety.

“I see it over the last couple of years that in certain countries, laws are actually misused to prosecute people who are, with the best intentions, doing their job,” Merckx said.

He proposed the urgent creation of an information exchange system under which incidents compromising flight safety would be passed on to aviation professionals to ensure mistakes aren’t repeated.

“If one pilot or air traffic controller makes an error, it would be good that everybody else knows that so that they can avoid those mistakes.”

He said Eurocontrol officials are trying to raise awareness about the issue with the justice ministries of several countries and the European Commission in order to rectify the problem.

“I think we’re only going to get it improved if we try to solve this at the European level,” Merckx said.

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