EC’s “VDRP” Announcement Includes Recognition of the Need to Protect the “Reporter” from Sanctions

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PRESS RELEASE: Occurrence reporting in civil aviation

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The EC issued a memorandum discussing its aviation safety movement from a reactive to a proactive aviation system and consistent with its SMS regime, adopting a program similar to the FAA’s VDRP and ASAP existing approaches to attracting real time safety information from pilots, mechanics and all certificate holders.

Not surprisingly, the European announcement does not mention the FAA’s experience with these voluntary reporting systems. By so doing, they did not explicitly acknowledge that the American implementation has had its problems with the use of the data submitted for enforcement purposes. Though there is no connection with the US VDRP/ASAP efforts, the EC memorandum points at a flaw and attempts to address it positively in the following paragraphs:

  • Better protection against inappropriate use of safety information

The proposal ensures that the information collected is not just guaranteed to be held confidential, but also can only be made available and used for the purpose of maintaining or improving aviation safety. The proposal also attempts to diminish the negative effect that the use of such data by judicial authorities may have on aviation safety by the obligation to adopt provisions which aim at finding the right balance between the two public interests at stake: justice and aviation safety.

  • Better protection of reporter to ensure the continued availability of information

The proposal strengthens the rules related to the protection of the “occurrence reporter” to ensure that people are confident in using the system and that appropriate safety information is reported. In that perspective, the text reaffirms the obligation to disidentify occurrence reports and limits the access to fully identified data only to certain persons. The rule establishes that employees shall not be subject to prejudice from their employer on the basis of the information reported, except in cases of gross negligence. Organizations are also asked to adopt a policy describing how the employees’ protection is guaranteed. Finally, national bodies are established allowing employees to report infringements to the rules which guarantee their protection, and penalties should be adopted where appropriate.

ICAO has established a Safety Information Protection Task Force to study the inappropriate use of aviation safety data in the context of criminal prosecutions. The transfer of data from a program designed to improve the capacity of the civil aviation authority to fix issues before they become problems to an enforcement case, while not as egregious as the criminal application, merits more consideration as the EC has articulated in the above quotation.

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