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IFALPA dismayed at Tuninter convictions

25th March 2009 - 13:14 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) has voiced its dismay over the conviction in the Italian courts of seven people involved with Tuninter ATR 72 crash in 2005. IFALPA declared that "once again the compulsion to apportion blame has outweighed the greater need to improve the safety of air transport".

Sentences totalling 62 years, were handed down in the court in Palermo against the flight crew and management of Tuninter (now operating as Sevenair) relating to the August 2005 ditching of an ATR 72 off the coast of Sicily. The Tuninter ATR 72 was on a flight from the southeastern Italian city of Bari to the Tunisian resort island of Djerba when both its engines cut off as it approached Sicily on 6 August 2005. Sixteen people lost their lives in the crash.

Pilot Chafik Gharby and co-pilot Ali Kebaier each received 10-year sentences. Tuninter (Sevenair) director general Moncef Zouari and technical chief Zoueir Chetouane were sentenced to nine years, while eight-year sentences were handed down to the airline's head of maintenance, Zouehir Siala, chief mechanic Chaed Nebil and maintenance squad leader Rhouma Bel Haj. Two members of the airline maintenance crew were acquitted. None of the defendants were in court for the sentencing and a lawyer for the airline said they will appeal the sentences.

Italy's national agency for air transport safety (ANSV) concluded in September 2007 that the ATR 72 crashed because the aircraft did not take on sufficient fuel before leaving Bari because of a faulty fuel gauge. According to the ANSV report, the day before the crash the fuel gauge was replaced in Tunisia with one designed for an ATR 42, which has smaller fuel tanks. The same conclusions were reached by the aircraft's manufacturer.

IFALPA expressed its concern because, as it points out, "the flight crew reacted to the loss of power in a textbook fashion and completed a successful ditching at sea. Under the internationally accepted approach to accident investigation such circumstances would not be grounds for a criminal prosecution". In fact, with a total of 39 people on board including passengers and crew, 23 lives were saved by the pilots' airmanship.

IFALPA "strongly believes that the prosecution was totally unwarranted given the facts of the accident and furthermore once again calls into question its commitment to the improvement of air safety". The Federation has also called on the Italian Government to amend the laws which "continue to have a detrimental effect on air safety and in doing so improve the safety of the travelling public".

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