“The criminal liability of air traffic controllers” project

Risk management and imputation of the event by fault in complex interaction sectors


Project description

The collaboration between ASGP and ANACNA (National Association of Air Navigation Assistants and Controllers) is aimed at carrying out research aimed at deepening the criminal liability profiles of air traffic controllers in relation to adverse events that may occur in the performance of their activities.
The air traffic controller operates in highly complex contexts, in which the verification of disasters is often inherent to the characteristics of the system itself: the necessary coordination with different professionals (pilots, in the first place), the use of specific technologies that oversee the government of the aircraft and the very short time available for making important decisions significantly affect the management of unexpected risks. According to the assumptions of Charles Perrow's Normal Accidents Theory, "no matter [...] how many security tools" are in place, "in a system of complex interaction and close connection with catastrophic potential, disasters are "unpredictable" and "inevitable", and become "an intrinsic property of system itself". Failure to take these peculiarities into account risks giving rise, during judicial verification, to presumptive mechanisms that upset the structural elements of criminal guilt. Of particular importance, therefore, is the deepening of the conditions that can expose air traffic controllers to (or preserve from) profiles of responsibility (first of all criminal). The analysis of the dynamics of imputation "for fault" of damaging events on a large scale is not only of legal interest, but also social, cultural and operational, representing a paradigmatic framework for a more general rethinking of the criteria of imputation and liability in relation to macro-events of damage that occur in organizations with high risk potential. It is considered that the fundamental penalistic concepts relevant to this matter ("model figure", "allowed risk", predictability judgement and culpability assessment) present a significant heuristic attitude in orienting the approach of the problems on the table in view of rational, effective and concretely implementable regulatory solutions, as they are suitable to: (i) contain the impact on the air navigation system of the so-called "accusatory approach to error", which inhibits the dynamics of learning from situations of bad management of threats and favours the assumption of defensive attitudes by operators; (ii) promote good practices, procedural models and prospects for legislative innovation, in order to contain the risk of over-criminalization.
The analysis of these problems is being articulated not only in a vast bibliographic and jurisprudential research - also international - but also in qualitative and quantitative surveys focused on the following profiles of interest: "organisational structures" and "organisational functioning" requirements; timing and modalities of decision-making processes; dynamics of violation and error; individual and organisational factors in making relevant decisions; incidence of non-technical skills in processes that condition decisions; detection of errors.


Project Outcome

The results of the research will be collected in a publication and disseminated in scientific and professional contexts, also through the organization of round tables and study meetings.


Social impact

The criminal response to major disasters (including aviators) represents one of the most significant issues in the present historical moment. A reflection on the ascribing mechanisms in the face of large-scale adverse events will also shed light on the dangerous tendency, widespread in public opinion, to slide towards the logic of the "scapegoat", which emphasizes and declines from a securitarian point of view the demands for "immediate reactivity" that emerge from the social body.



The Project is carried out in collaboration with ANACNA (National Association of Air Navigation Assistants and Controllers).
Research Team


Scientific leaders: Prof. Gabrio Forti, Prof. Matteo Caputo, Prof. Francesco D'Alessandro
Researcher in charge: Dr Eliana Greco

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