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Post-incident withdrawal of air traffic controllers from control positions

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Category: Safety Alert Safety Alerts
Content source: EUROCONTROL Safety Alerts EUROCONTROL

Request for Support Message

Post-incident withdrawal of air traffic controllers from control positions

Date: 26 March 2014 Request for Support Message.gif


An Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) has asked for information concerning the policies and resultant practices and procedures in use related to the withdrawal of air traffic controllers from control positions following safety related incidents such as runway incursions and losses of separation.

Existing Provisions and Guidelines

There are no prescriptive international regulations that specify when a controller should be withdrawn from a control position after an incident; however, the practice is reflected in a number of industry guidelines:

EUROCONTROL Guidelines for Investigation of Safety Occurrences in ATM (2003)

“The supervisor should, obviously, safeguard continued service provision. The controllers involved in an occurrence should be removed from their control position. The sense of guilt that can follow from an occurrence may impair the controller’s ability to continue safe operation.”

EUROCONTROL SAF REP ATM Incident Reporting Culture: Impediments and Practices, (2005)

States at ”the practice of withdrawing ATCOs from operational positions when they are involved in safety occurrences, with the only aim of preserving the individual and the organisation was found to be a sound and recommendable practice. ATCOs retain their full right of reinstatement subject to further clarifications from the investigation but without prejudice of any administrative sanctions.”


Not all incidents are of the controller’s making. Nevertheless, it has been common (even standard) practice for the ATC supervisor to withdraw the controller from position immediately following their involvement in a serious incident in order to safeguard continued service provision and to provide relief to the controller(s) - who may have been adversely affected by the experience. However, some ANSPs now allow the supervisor to exercise ‘judgement’ and to leave the controller in position for ‘less serious’ incidents. The intention is to remove any perceived stigma of being withdrawn for minor separation minima infringements etc.

Support Requested

Air Navigation Service Providers and National Aviation Authorities and are invited to submit details of any national/local level written policies related to post-incident withdrawal of controllers:

  • What are there criteria (if any), in terms of ‘seriousness’ of the incident, that might trigger withdrawal?
  • Is post-incident removal an automatic process or can some form of judgement be exercised?
  • If judgement is used, who can exercise it, the controller, supervisor, watch manager?
  • What is the policy (if any) regarding the suspension of ATCOs following removal e.g. automatic suspension, case-by-case basis?
  • Describe other post-incident administrative actions, e.g. licensing/rating action, remedial training, re-instatement procedures.
  • What controller support processes etc are in place e.g. CISM, counselling?

Summary of Responses


© European Organisation for Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) March 2014. This alert is published by EUROCONTROL for information purposes. It may be copied in whole or in part, provided that EUROCONTROL is mentioned as the source and to the extent justified by the non-commercial use (not for sale). The information in this document may not be modified without prior written permission from EUROCONTROL. The use of the document is at the user’s sole risk and responsibility. EUROCONTROL expressly disclaim any and all warranties with respect to any content within the alert, express or implied.