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Training and Recruitment of Aircraft Accident Investigators


Aircraft accident investigation is a specialized task which should only be undertaken by qualified aviators. It is therefore of the utmost importance that suitable persons are identified and appropriately trained to carry out this difficult task and to be able to obtain job satisfaction in this as their chosen career.

The investigation of an aircraft accident is also a task that can be almost unlimited in scope. Therefore, some investigations will be curtailed by the resources available, unless proper management of the investigations is exercised. The investigator-in-charge is responsible for ensuring that the expenditure of the resources available results in an investigation that extracts the maximum benefit to the safety of aviation. The families must also be kept in the loop on the progress of the investigation.

Recruiting of Investigators

The experience and employment background of an aspiring investigator is therefore a very important aspect in the recruitment and training of aircraft accident investigators. Potential accident investigators must have considerable practical experience in aviation as a foundation on which to build their investigation skills. This experience can be acquired from civil or military qualification as a pilot, aeronautical engineer or aircraft maintenance engineer. Personnel qualified in flight operations, airworthiness, air traffic management, or aviation-related management may also be suitable for accident investigator training.

Training of Investigators

Training will involve the progressive in-house training considered necessary to qualify a person for the various investigation roles, including appointment as the investigator-in-charge of an investigation into a major accident involving a large transport category aircraft.

Since accident investigations will often involve specialized areas, it is important that those selected for training as investigators understand the aviation infrastructure and are able to relate to the many different areas of aviation. Since the outcome of an accident investigation is largely dependent upon the aviation knowledge, skills and experience of the assigned aircraft accident investigators, they should have:

  • an understanding of the depth of investigation that is necessary in order for the investigation to conform with the legislation, regulations and other requirements of the State for which they are conducting the investigation;
  • a knowledge of aircraft accident investigation techniques;
  • an understanding of aircraft operations and the relevant technical areas of aviation;
  • the ability to obtain and manage the relevant technical assistance and resources required to support the investigation;
  • the ability to collect, document and preserve evidence;
  • the ability to identify and analyse pertinent evidence in order to determine the causes and, if appropriate, make safety recommendations; and
  • the ability to write a final report that meets the requirements of the accident investigation authority of the State conducting the investigation.

Training a person for aircraft accident investigation involves several phases. These phases include initial training, on-the-job training, a basic accident investigation course and an advanced accident investigation course supplemented by specialized courses. While on-the-job training is an ongoing process that continues for many years, there should be sufficient time intervals between each formal course to allow the investigator to consolidate the information and the techniques learned. Formal courses are designed to complement on-the-job training by exposing trainee investigators to a cadre of experts who can pass on the details of their specialties to their students. The experts are usually recruited from those with experiences in a particular area of accident investigation. They include experienced investigators, aviation medicine physicians, psychologists, aeronautical engineers and manufacturers’ representatives.

Structured courses in aircraft accident investigation are conducted by universities, manufacturers, military establishments, accident investigation authorities and other educational institutions.

Following the initial training, an accident investigation authority should provide on-the-job training for a new investigator. During this second phase, the new investigator will practice the procedures and tasks covered in the initial training, and gain familiarity with investigation techniques. This training will also familiarize him with the investigation tasks at the accident site, the collection of factual information, the analysis of the factual information and the development of the final report. The conduct of on-the-job training often involves more than one experienced investigator and is not limited to investigations within the State that employs the trainee/investigator.

Attributes of an Investigator

In addition to technical skills and experience, an accident investigator requires certain personal attributes. These attributes include integrity and impartiality in the recording of facts; the ability to analyze facts in a logical manner; perseverance in pursuing inquiries, often under difficult or trying conditions; and tact in dealing with a wide range of people who have been involved in the traumatic experience of an aircraft accident.

Investigators are also expected to be prepared to travel for extended periods of time at short notice, both within South Africa and internationally.

It may at times also require the handling and removal of body parts involving fatalities and working closely with the SAPS and pathologists.

A career involving aircraft accident investigation does call for support by an understanding family.

Accident investigation as a career

To be successful and have job satisfaction in his or her career as an investigator, there is a need for dedication, a willingness to work under stressful conditions and to have a desire and an unwavering interest to improve aviation safety. Without this, the investigator will not be successful and be able to obtain job satisfaction in this chosen career.


Issued By:
The Office of the Executive Manager: Accident and Incident Investigation Division

February 2013

Ref. ICAO Circular 298-AN/172 - Training Guidelines for Aircraft Accident Investigators

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