Investigation Report on the Überlingen aircraft accident - Federal Council accepts errors were made and expresses apologies

Bern, Press release, 19.05.2004

The circumstances that led to the collision of two aircraft in the airspace over Überlingen (Ger.) on 1 July 2002 have been clarified. Errors that brought about the disaster and the deaths of 71 people were also made in Switzerland. In a letter to the President of the Russian Federation on behalf of the Federal Council, President Joseph Deiss has offered his sincerest apologies. The accident led to an immediate and thorough examination of the Swiss air traffic control system. The reorganisation of safety management in air transport already underway will be continued to its logical conclusion.

The German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU) has informed the relevant Swiss authorities of the findings of its investigation into the accident. Within the framework of the usual proceedings, Switzerland had the opportunity to comment on those findings. The report cites five causes, two of which were direct causes and three of which were systemic. Three of the five causes are attributed to Skyguide AG.

The Bureau made a total of 19 safety recommendations, ten of which are directed towards the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA).

Letter to President Putin

In a letter to President Putin, the Swiss president expresses the Federal Council's deep regret for the tragic event. "In the name of the Federal Council, I would like to convey to you my sincerest apologies and once again express our deep regret", writes the President of the Swiss Confederation. He assures President Putin that Switzerland will find out where responsibility for the errors lies and that it will take what action is required, including criminal proceedings if necessary. The immense suffering that the accident has caused has deeply moved the people and the authorities in Switzerland.

Switzerland is aware that financial compensation cannot alleviate the grief of the relatives. Nevertheless, it promptly recognised the claims of those affected and has been committed to providing swift, unbureaucratic and generous compensation to the surviving relatives in order to spare them the burden of legal proceedings. In June 2003 Switzerland, Germany and Skyguide AG established a joint compensation fund for the next-of-kin. Several families have already received the payments due to them. The Federal Council hopes that with the publication of the investigation report negotiations with the remaining families can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible. The fund is not responsible for the fact that some families have yet to obtain compensation.

The accident has placed a strain on relations between Switzerland and the Russian Federation. The Federal Council wishes to do everything in its power to ensure that the friendship between the people of Russia and Switzerland is not adversely affected. The Federal Council hopes that the numerous and long-standing connections between both states can be strengthened again.

New orientation of safety system

One of the main objectives of an air accident investigation is to obtain insights that will serve to prevent further accidents. The initial recommendations passed on to Switzerland by the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation during the investigation have already been implemented at Skyguide by the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA).

Following the accident, the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communication (DETEC) launched a thorough and independent review of the safety systems in Swiss air transport. Federal Councillor Moritz Leuenberger has regularly informed the Federal Council of the relevant findings and has initiated the measures required.

As part of the "Safety First (SAFIR)" action plan, safety management is being reorganised at all levels. At the FOCA, the safety and policy sectors are being separated; the numbers of staff in the safety sector will be increased. The Federal Council has submitted a request to parliament to that effect. The procedure prior to publication of investigation reports by the Swiss Air Accident Investigation Bureau has been tightened thereby enabling safety recommendations to be implemented more swiftly. As part of an overall package of measures, amendments to the relevant provisions of the Civil Aviation Act and its ordinances will be required. It is now no longer the task of the FOCA to decide on the implementation of these recommendations, but rather the Department. The implementation of the new safety policy is one of the prime tasks of the new Director of the Federal Office for Civil Aviation, Raymond Cron, who took over the running of the FOCA at the beginning of May.

Skyguide AG has several tasks to fulfil as part of the "SAFIR" action plan, with the aim of significantly raising the level of air transport safety within months. The company must

  • establish and improve a safety-oriented corporate culture,
  • increase its training capacities
  • increase staffing levels
  • expand its risk management
  • and introduce a licensing procedure for its staff and a certification process for its technical facilities.

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