In a case of significance for flight data monitoring initiatives, look for the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) to decide this week if it will appeal a U.K. court’s decision ordering an accident flight recorder’s release to criminal prosecutors. Many in aviation believe flight recorder data is controlled by safety investigators and always kept confidential, but legal procedures may say otherwise. The recorder in question came from a CHC Eurocopter AS332 that crashed Aug. 23, 2013 on approach to Sumburgh Airport in the Shetland Islands, killing four of 16 passengers. While its probe continues, the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has not pointed yet to any technical fault as a contributing cause. Therefore, after the AAIB refused to do so, Scotland’s Lord Advocate asked the court to order the combined cockpit voice-flight data recorder’s release. That chief Scottish legal officer’s duties include investigating deaths. The AAIB told the court that the recorder’s release would have “a serious and adverse impact” on its ability “to effectively investigate future accidents and incidents” and impede its “effectiveness and contribution to aviation safety.” BALPA made the same argument, which is the general position of advocates for stronger legal protections of such data around the world. But the judge ruled June 19 that the public interest in investigating the four deaths outweighs any adverse aviation safety impact, saying that releasing the recorder “will provide relevant, accurate and reliable evidence.” He ordered the recorder released to the Lord Advocate and Police Scotland, provided that the police have experts download it, keep its contents confidential and redact non-pertinent information and conversation in any material introduced as evidence in a criminal case.
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