Aviation Expertise Centre of the PPS North Holland Launched and Ambitions Announced

The new Aviation Expertise Centre of the PPS was officially launched at a symposium in Madurodam on Thursday 28 March. Under the watchful eyes of some two hundred invited guests, the expertise centre's ambitions for this year were announced, including countering unwanted drone flights, strengthening the approach to unruly passengers and setting up a European network of prosecutors handling aviation cases.

Aviation Safety

The PPS North Holland handles all cases within civil aviation in The Netherlands where aviation safety is at stake and a criminal offence may be involved. Examples are a drone that flies over the Vrijthof in Maastricht without permission, someone who is in a forbidden terrain in the airport or a pilot who is going to fly while he is under the influence of alcohol. All these sorts of cases land at the Aviation Expertise centre of the Noord-Holland PPS, where the national coordinating prosecution officer deals with them together with her team.

The function of the national coordinating prosecution officer exists since 1984 at PPS. In a period of forty years much  has changed within the aviation as well as in the judgment of aviation cases. In view of these great changes the PPS decided to found the Aviation expertise centre, with the aim of further specialization of the approach and manner of dealing with cases and to obtain greater knowledge.

Aviation safety

The public prosecutor in Noord-Holland handles all cases within civil aviation in the Netherlands where aviation safety is at stake and a criminal offence may be involved. A drone flying without permission over the Vrijthof square in Maastricht, someone trespassing on airport property or a pilot intending to fly while under the influence of alcohol: all such cases end up at the Aviation Expertise Centre of OM Noord-Holland, where the national coordinating aviation officer of the Public Prosecutor's Office deals with them with her team.

The position of national coordinating aviation officer has existed at the OM since 1984. In those forty years, much has changed both within aviation and in the assessment of aviation cases. In view of these major changes, the Public Prosecution Service decided to set up the Aviation Expertise Centre, with the aim of further professionalising the approach and handling of cases and securing more knowledge.

Ever Growing Number of Drones 

The Aviation Expertise Centre exists since 1 January 2024. The national aviation prosecutor and three other PPS fellow-workers fill much of their working week with aviation issues. The investigation and prosecution policy in aviation cases has been laid down in an instruction from the Board of Procurators General since 2006. This sets out how to proceed in aviation incidents that affect criminal law.

The policy focused primarily on major parties in commercial air transport and was later extended to general aviation (think of smaller motor airplanes, gliders and hot-air balloons). It also distinguishes between manned and unmanned aviation, such as a drone. With aviation safety in mind, the PPS believes it is important to pay more attention to unmanned aviation together with the aviation police and other chain partners.  With ‘remote pilots’ flying drones, the number of participants in aviation has increased significantly. 

Just Culture 

When assessing aviation cases, Just Culture plays a major role. Just Culture is defined in aviation regulation as a culture in which people are not punished for behaviour appropriate to their training and experience, but in which deliberate violations and gross negligence are not tolerated. The idea behind Just Culture is that people should feel freer in reporting the incidents themselves, so that they can be learned from. Promoting this Just Culture serves the public interest, according to the PPS. The Aviation Expertise Centre is therefore also going to publish decisions on its website. This will provide insight into how Just Culture works in criminal cases.  

The symposium was attended by nearly 200 people who work within the government and  the aviation sector. Aviation prosecutor Katja van Bijsterveldt: ‘The symposium was a great success, in which we were able to share a lot of knowledge with chain partners’.