BUNDESSTELLE FÜR FLUGUNFALLUNTERSUCHUNG (BFU)

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The German Aircraft Accident Investigation Board is located at Braunschweig. Contrary to other comparable organizations of its kind the BFU staff lacks the otherwise required expertise of staff acting as investigators in charge (IIC). Most IIC’s do not hold or have ever held an ATPL (Air Transport Pilot License) or CPL (Commercial Pilot License) such as for example the deputy director of the BFU, Mr Johann Reuss or the other lead IIC, designated for big airplane incident and accident investigations, Mr Jens Friedemann. Only few employees and investigators have gone trough an academic education.

The director of the BFU, Mr. Ulf Kramer, does not have any finished academic education either, which would normally disqualify him from leading any comparable Government Authority in Germany. He was appointed without the obligatory public vacancy of the position, merely because of his close affiliation to the governing party, the CDU (of which he is a member) and the German Ministry of Transport.

His deputy, Dipl. Ing.  (FH) Johann Reuss, is an electrical engineer with no aviation background. Reuss took over the investigation of the Germanwings «Cologne-incident» from Mr. Karsten Severin, after Mr Severin was «released» as investigator in charge of the case.  Mr Severin has an academic background, he holds a degree in psychology and is a certified flight instructor. He also is currently the only «human factor specialist» within the agency.

Despite obvious violations in timely reporting fume/smell events by airlines and responsible flight crew members the BFU has, so far, never imposed any fine against any individual or airline. As a matter of fact, when informed about an event by other means or sources, investigators made phone calls to the respective airline and asked, if the airline did «forget to report» an event. This was acknowledged by the German Ministry of Transport in a parliamentarian request and more then once criticized by German MP’s such as Markus Tressel (Greens) and Thomas Lutze (die Linke).

On the other hand the BFU has currently a huge backlog of fume event cases that were never thoroughly investigated, despite being reported to them in a timely manner. The normal tendency, depending on the investigator in charge and the head of the BFU, is to close the cases before even starting an investigation. This has led to the situation that now Courts have acknowledged work related injuries or accidents, but such cases have never been investigated by the respective authority.

In recent years considerable criticism has mounted against the BFU and its «closeness» to airlines, especially when it comes to fume/smell events. There is considerable doubt, especially in the investigation conducted by Mr. Reuss into the Germanwings incident. The First Officer, who encountered the fume event on approach to Cologne in December 2010, did encounter some time later another fume event on an Lufthansa Airbus A320. The event was clearly attributable to an oil leak on the Lufthansa aircraft. He reported this to the BFU and did inform them as well that again his blood readings and parameters were elevated to a similar extend as in the Cologne incident. In the later it was ruled out by Mr. Reuss that the First Officers symptoms could be attributed to fumes in the cockpit. In his final report Reuss refers to an alleged medical expertise of the German Air Force that he never disclosed nor attached to the report. Reuss and the BFU even continue to decline to grant the First Officer access to this medical  expertise, which is based on his (the First Officer’s) medical reports.

Despite BFU investigators received scientific backgrounds and insights about the toxicity of the compounds and their effect on the human brain and nervous system by Professor Mohamed Abou-Donia of Duke University in 2012 it seems that most investigators do not believe that cabin air contamination should be taken as a serious issue.

Only in 2016 the authority was finally staffed with a medical doctor and with another employe who holds an ATPL.  The later is coming from a German airline that had multiple fume events and has several pilots already with ill health and therefore «unfit to fly».

Critics claim that this agency is «long overdue» for a thorough external and independent audit of organization, internal structures, external affiliations and expertise of its IIC’s.

The BFU declined to be interviewed for the documentary film by Tim van Beveren.

 

(in German:)

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