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Be prepared for prosecution airlines warned

ROME: In light of the recent Germanwings disaster, the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) has warned that the increasing criminalization of air accidents is becoming an "alarming" responsibility for airline directors and executives.

According to Simon McNamara, ERA director general, airline CEOs must understand and plan for "the very real threat of criminal procedures being brought against the company or individuals following a serious incident or accident".

In response, the ERA and commercial law firm Hill Dickinson have updated a guide to corporate liability and responsibility in air accidents that explains what these threats are and how they can be best managed. The document includes advice on insurance, training, media strategy and conducting a parallel internal air accident investigation in case of an accident.

DHL 757 2002Joanna Kolatsis, co-head of Hill Dickinson's aviation team explained: "In an increasingly litigious society airline boards and senior executives need to prepare for...potential criminal prosecution. Failure to take the necessary measures can expose companies to corporate manslaughter charges and both executive and non-executive directors need to be aware of their legal obligations."

The guide cites numerous air accidents, legal proceedings and their various outcomes: One of them happened in July 2002 when a DHL B757 freighter (similar to one right) and a Bashkirian Tu-154 collided in mid-air over Uberlingen, Germany with the loss of 71 lives.

Four years later, prosecutors charged eight Swiss Skyguide air navigation service controllers with negligent homicide. A father of one of the crash victims later stabbed to death the controller on duty at the time of the accident.

In September 2007 a Swiss court convicted four of the eight mid-level managers; the others were acquitted.

The ERA notes litigation is not confined to European accidents: Last month, prosecutors in France opened a manslaughter investigation after two helicopters crashed in Argentina on March 09, killing eight French nationals filming a TV survival show.

The helicopters apparently collided in midair near Villa Castelli in La Rioja province, about 730 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, La Rioja. All 10 people on board were killed.

McNamara concluded: "Being operationally prepared for a serious event is very different to being prepared for possible criminal action. The advice and information in this document explains what the threats are and, more importantly, the measures available to protect against criminal liability exposure and how they can be managed should the worst happen."

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