Vested Interests in the Investigations of Ukrainian Flight 752

Iran has finally taken responsibility for shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner leading to the loss of 176 lives, on the night it launched missile strikes against US targets.

Although it had been a widely held belief by many, especially in Europe and America that the Boeing jet was brought down by a missile, it took Tehran days to take accountability for the crash.

Iran’s admission is a big step in solving the circumstances that led to the crash. However, recorded cockpit and flight data from the period before the incident will still have to be reviewed and analysed as required by the ICAO regulations governing air crash investigation as laid down at the Chicago Convention of 1944.

This is where we are likely to see a strain in the international protocol requiring cooperation in air crash investigation. One thing that the key players in the current crisis in the Middle East have agreed on is that the plane was shot down by mistake after it was confused for an enemy aircraft.

But still, they have not hesitated to use it to reinforce their stand in the current crisis that arose after the killing of General Qassem Soleimani. While Iran has admitted bringing down the jet by mistake, it has blamed the US for creating the situation that led to the crash. On the other hand, the US has used it to put pressure on Tehran with President Trump tweeting support for the Iranian’s who have come out to protest against the shooting of the aircraft.

Nevertheless, ICAO’s Chicago Convention of 1944, made it clear, that the sole objective of Annex 13 investigations are to prevent accidents and incidents and not the apportion of blame or liability. “Annex 13 investigations result in reports of which the contents are shared to improve safety and best practices.”

According to the 1944 Convention of which both Iran and US are signatories, the country in which the accident occurred, in this case Iran, shall institute an investigation into the circumstances of the accident and be responsible for the conduct of such investigations.

Annex 13, (Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigations) to the Convention gives Iran unlimited independence in the conduct of the investigation and unrestricted authority over how it is conducted. This includes the gathering and analysis of all relevant information relating to the accident, the protection of the crash record, the issuance of safety recommendation, the determination of the cause of the crash, and the compilation of the final report.

On the other hand, it also provides for the involvement in the investigations of the state operating the aircraft, the state in which the aircraft was registered, and the state in which the aircraft was designed and manufactured.

In this case, America is allowed to participate in the investigations on the basis that Boeing manufactured the aircraft, while Ukraine is allowed to take part on the basis that it is the state of registry and also the operator of the aircraft.

The regulations also allow Canada which suffered many casualties to send a representative to take part in the investigations.

This is based on a clause which says, “A state which has a special interest in accident, by virtue of fatalities or serious injuries to its citizens is entitled to visit the scene of the accident, have access to the relevant factual information which is approved for public release by the state conducting the investigation, and receive a copy of the accident final report.”

This means America, Ukraine, and Canada are all interested parties in the investigations.

Black boxes relating to Boeing aircrafts have always been handed to the Boeing company in the US for analysis. But there are situations where countries have refused to send them to the US over for fear of bias. In March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines refused to hand the black box from the Boeing 737 crash in Addis Ababa and instead sent it to France following fears that the US would influence the investigations.

Just after the crash in Tehran, Iran’s head of Civil Aviation Organisation, Mr Ali Abedzadeh declared that Iran wouldn’t send the black box to Boeing, instead saying that they would be assessed in Iran under ICAO rules but would only allow Ukraine to take part in the evaluation of the flight data.

However after it became definite that the aircraft was brought down by a missile, Iran has now decided to include Boeing and the US National Transportation Safety Board NTSB in the investigations of the crash. So far the NTSB has accepted the invitation by stating,” The NTSB has designated an accredited representative to the investigation of the crash.”

According to experts, although Iran has insisted that it wouldn’t send the black box to America, it will need to send the black box to a foreign country in case they are damaged. This appeared to be the case after Iran officials revealed that the recovered flight recorder sustained damage due to the intense fire and the impact of the crash.

They said there was a possibility that data stored electronically in them had been lost, but investigators could access some useful data from the damaged devices.

In such a case,  Iran just like Ethiopia, would most likely send the black box to a neutral country, such as France or Russia to analyse the data. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron have both already agreed that French specialists would help decode the black boxes of the plane.