Insufficient attention to safety in innovations

In July 2020, the Dutch Safety Board published a report concerning a fatal accident involving an electrically-powered aircraft in the Netherlands. Since this was the first accident with a so-called microlight aeroplane (MLA) in the Netherlands and the first accident worldwide involving an aircraft model Pipistrel Alpha Electro, the investigation also focused on topics like innovation, legislation and regulations. This resulted in three recommendations to the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, among other things calling for effective government oversight of the relevant industry. While small steps have been taken since then, the ministry is has yet to complete the follow-up on all of these recommendations.

Like other branches of industry, the aviation sector is continuously evolving in terms of innovation. Innovations may result in new products that still look like the original product but are completely different from their predecessors in terms of technology. Such transformations are clearly visible in road traffic, for instance, as well as in the aviation industry with the development of electrically-powered microlight aeroplanes (MLAs).

Lack of proactive government stance with regard to innovations

Over the past years, the Dutch Safety Board has devoted serious attention to the aspect of safety in innovation in the course of several of its investigations. A nation expects its government to be willing and prepared to intervene whenever the use of a new technology results in potentially unsafe situations. This requires a proactive stance, for instance in formulating legal directives and organising government oversight.

Unfortunately the Dutch Safety Board was unable to observe such a proactive stance in its investigation following the fatal accident with the Pipistrel Alpha Electro. There are, for instance, no legal requirements for this type of aircraft and the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) does not monitor the production and use of MLAs. With this in mind, the Dutch Safety Board issued three recommendations to the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management.

Lack of follow-up on recommendations

Based on the response from the Minister dated 13 October 2020, the Dutch Safety Board has concluded that while small steps may have been taken, follow-up on the recommendations has been sadly lacking and remains entirely out of reach. For instance, there have been no promises or statements regarding the organisation and implementation of government oversight of this innovative aircraft sector. While the ILT may be investigating whether the earlier risk assessment should be reviewed and updated, the minister has not made any concrete promises with regard to the actual organisation and implementation of government oversight of this sector.

Please find the response of the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management and the full conclusion with regard to compliance with all recommendations in this report here