The ATSB conduct 'no blame' aviation safety investigations in accordance with the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act).

The ATSB does not investigate for the purpose of taking administrative, regulatory or criminal action. Annex 13 (Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation) to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention 1944) prescribes international principles for aircraft accident and incident investigation, and the provisions of the TSI Act are designed to reflect those principles.

When the ATSB investigates an accident or incident, investigators will seek to determine its circumstances, identify any safety issues, and encourage relevant safety action. The aim of all ATSB investigations is to prevent the occurrence of other accidents and incidents, rather than to assign blame or liability. This approach helps ensure the continued free flow of safety information for the purposes of improving safety in the future.

Does the ATSB investigate all aviation accidents?

We prioritise our investigations to focus on accidents and incidents that have the potential to deliver the greatest public benefit through improvements to transport safety. We focus on the public interest where the safety of passengers and crew, and when it comes to the significant costs that can result from an accident, particularly where there is significant damage to public infrastructure or an impact on the national economy.

The ATSB allocates its investigation resources to be consistent with the following broad hierarchy of aviation operation types:  

passenger transport – large aircraft  

passenger transport – small aircraft:  

  •   a) regular public transport and charter of small aircraft  
  •   b) humanitarian aerial work (for example, medical transport and search and rescue)  

commercial passenger-carrying flights (fare-paying and recreation – for example, joy flights)  

aerial work with participating passengers (for example, news reporters, geological surveys)  

flying training  

other aerial work: 

  • non-passenger carrying work (for example, freight, aerial application, mustering) 
  • private transport or personal business  

higher-risk personal recreation/sports aviation/experimental aircraft operations.  

The ATSB endeavours to investigate all fatal accidents involving VH-registered powered aircraft subject to the potential transport safety learnings and resource availability.

Does the ATSB investigate sport aviation accidents?

In line with its remit, the ATSB does not investigate accidents and incidents involving most recreational, ultralight and sports aviation aircraft, including non-powered gliders, gyrocopters, hang gliders, paragliders and private hot air balloons.  

The ATSB would only investigate accidents involving sport aviation aircraft that are not registered with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, and non-powered glider aircraft, on an exception basis, as its resources permit, where conducting such an investigation has the potential to highlight wider safety issues. 

Sport aviation bodies conduct their own investigations into accidents involving their members' aircraft. Where requested and as resourcing permits the ATSB may assist sport and recreation aviation organisation’s investigations through providing technical assistance, such as a metallurgical examination of aircraft components or data recovery. 

Investigator representatives from recreational aviation organisations are also able to attend the ATSB’s transport safety investigator graduate certificate course, which is delivered jointly by the ATSB and RMIT University. 

Reporting accidents and incidents

As required under the Transport Safety Investigation Regulations 2021 (TSI Regulations), the owner, operator or crew of an aircraft must report an accident or serious incident to the ATSB as soon as practicable and by the quickest means possible. While both the crew and the owner must report the occurrence immediately, it is understood that the owner may not learn of the accident until some time after the event, and that the crew may be unable to notify the ATSB due to personal injuries.

Anyone else learning of an aviation accident should, in addition to alerting emergency services as required, report the accident to the ATSB immediately. While the ATSB does not investigate all accidents and incidents, it still needs to be notified of all aviation occurrences so that the information can be used in future safety research and analysis. Please call the toll-free number 1800 011 034 to notify the ATSB.

Refer to the TSI Regulations for a list of all reportable occurrences and responsible persons who are required to report them to the ATSB. Note that as of 30 September 2021, the TSI Regulations include definitions for Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), including types which qualify for mandatory reporting under for certain occurrences.

The ATSB operates Australia's REPCON Scheme which offers people in the aviation industry the opportunity to report unsafe conditions, practices or procedures involving aircraft without fear of being identified. For more information about REPCON phone 1800 020 505 or e-mail repcon@atsb.gov.au

Coronial inquests into an aviation accident

The relevant State or Territory Coroner may hold an inquest into a fatal aviation accident. The Coronial inquest and the ATSB investigation are separate but they do interact.

ATSB investigators may be legally required to appear as expert witnesses. A date for an inquest or inquiry is determined by the Coroner.

The Coroner's Office should be contacted on all matters relating to an inquest. Coronial services can also offer assistance and advice, and some Coronial jurisdictions provide grief counselling and other support for relatives by means of trained professionals.

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