Hong Kong formally establishes an independent Air Accident Investigation Authority and appoints a chief inspector of accidents
Historically, responsibility for the conduct of aviation safety investigations in Hong Kong lay within the Accident Investigation Division of the Civil Aviation Department (HKCAD) and the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), who reported to the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). As the HKCAD is also the regulatory body for civil aviation activities in Hong Kong, the impartiality of investigations had the potential of being perceived to be compromised notwithstanding internal mechanisms put in place to address this.
In November 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) adopted amendments to Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation), introducing a definition for an ‘accident investigation authority’ and introducing a new Standard (3.2) for Contracting States to establish an independent investigation authority so as to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest with State aviation authorities and other entities that could impact upon the objectivity or conduct of an investigation. ICAO recommended that Contracting States implement the new Standard within two years.
Establishment of the Hong Kong Air Accident Investigation Authority (AAIA)
The obligation to meet certain Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) prescribed in Annex 13 falls upon Hong Kong through China’s status as a Contracting State. On 10 September 2018, following an open recruitment process, Mr Darren Straker was appointed as the first Chief Inspector of Accidents under a newly created Air Accident Investigation Authority (AAIA), which marks HKSAR’s compliance with the latest SARPs. To confer the requisite statutory powers on the AAIA and the Chief Inspector, after public consultation via the HKCAD and scrutiny in the Legislative Council (LegCo) in 2017, certain new principles of Annex 13 were incorporated into law through the Hong Kong Civil Aviation (Investigation of Accidents) (Amendment) Regulation 2017 (Regulations). On 28 September 2018, the Government announced that these Regulations will come into operation on 3 December 2018.
The AAIA shall inherit the air accident investigation function previously designated to the HKCAD, conducting investigations into all accidents and serious incidents within the HKSAR as well as being entitled to participate in those outside the HKSAR involving Hong-Kong registered civil aircraft. It is therefore fully segregated from the HKCAD organizational structure. The Chief Inspector shall spearhead investigations and report directly to the Transport and Housing Bureau. The Regulations have also incorporated the definitions of ‘accident; ‘serious incident’ and ‘incident’ into Hong Kong law to align with Annex 13 and actual practice.
The Regulations reaffirm that the objective of aviation safety investigations is to establish cause and prevent further occurrences, and not to apportion blame or liability. However, it does not incorporate other amendments introduced to standard 5.12 of Annex 13 relating to the protection of accident and incident investigation records. LegCo has proposed to address these other amended standards of Annex 13 in the 2018-19 legislative session.
The establishment of the AAIA brings the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region into line with other countries who have independent investigation authorities, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, France and the United States. Whilst local circumstances may differ in Hong Kong, given for instance there are no domestic commercial flights, these changes have the dual objective of establishing an effective independent authority in line with international best practice, whilst reinforcing Hong Kong’s status as a major international hub. To date, one Serious Incident Bulletin has been published by AAIA and we await to see it working further in practice after 3 December 2018.
Further information is available on the AAIA website: https://www.thb.gov.hk/aaia/eng/index.htm