Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday that the Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority Bill, 2019, will improve co-operation from government agencies in accident investigations.
He made the comments during the debate of the bill in the House of Assembly yesterday. The bill will establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority of The Bahamas, which will be independent from the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority and be responsible for conducting investigations into civil aviation accidents and incidents.
“Over the course of the last few years, The Bahamas has seen a number of unfortunate air incidences, some sadly resulting in fatalities,” D’Aguilar said.
“Investigations have naturally followed all of these accidents and those investigations have placed a negative spotlight on some of the agencies of government that are required to assist the accident investigation team in carrying out their functions.
“With the passage of the bill, memorandums of understanding will now be executed between the Air Accident Investigation Authority and those other government agencies for greater co-operation during accident investigations.”
D’Aguilar said the bill is expected to get rid of conflicts of interest and bring The Bahamas’ accident investigation procedure in line with international standards. He said the need for the bill arose in response to poor scores in a safety audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency. He said The Bahamas was not in compliance with amendments 15 and 16 of Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention.
Amendment 15 stipulated that a country’s accident investigation authority be independent from state aviation authorities. Amendment 16 stipulated that the accident investigation authority should have unrestricted and timely access to evidential material, as well as the implementation of monitoring procedures to track actions in response to safety recommendations.
“The Bahamas was a subject of an ICAO safety audit, which found the Accident Investigation Department largely non-compliant with the standards and recommended practices of Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention,” said D’Aguilar.
“The Civil Aviation Act and regulations enforced did not address the latest amendments.
“Due to a lack of compliance with Annex 13 in the country’s legislation and regulations, ICAO’s effective implementation score for the Accident and Investigation group decreased from 79 percent to a mere 19 percent.”
The bill stipulates that the authority’s draft final reports will be sent to departments, governments and other organizations that participated in the investigation, but will not be issued to the public. A final report from the authority on an investigation must be made available to the public within 12 months from the date of the accident or incident “where practicable”.
Shadow Minister of Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin expressed the opposition’s support for the bill. However, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper called for improving the ability of the authority to aid in search and rescue operations.
Citing Byron Ferguson’s accident and a plane crash off North Andros last year, he said families need to know that there is a competent authority to locate and rescue plane crash victims in a timely manner.
“We also need to beef up the ability of the AAIA (Air Accident Investigation Authority) to aid in search and rescue,” Cooper said.
“As we saw with the recent downed flights, there were many mistakes that we could learn from. We should not allow these lessons to be squandered.
“In fact, in memory of those who suffered, we must ensure that their ultimate sacrifice is not wasted.”
He added, “We could and should consider creating a separate squad or unit within the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and police force that could partner with the U.S. Coast Guard in pinpointing downed aircraft and heading to the scene.”
The bill was passed in the House of Assembly.