FAA Voluntary Reports can be Protected from Enforcement Actions by Simple Policy Statement by the Administrator

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Article:AIN Blog: Torqued: Voluntary versus Mandatory Safety Reporting Systems


The value of the ASAP, VDRP, ASRS and other voluntary safety reporting systems is clearly demonstrated in the airline safety records of the past few years, well noted in the attached article. Former NTSB Member John Goglia concurs in that assessment in his AIN Blog Torqued. The solution to the problem which Mr. Goglia identifies is relatively easy.

The programs all explicitly state that the submission is voluntary and the enforcement aspect is also defined in the regulations. Like all of the Federal Aviation Regulations, the language at issue is subject to interpretation. The relevant words are:

“The alleged regulatory violation must be inadvertent, and must not appear to involve an intentional disregard for safety. “

The problem is the reading of these words by the FAA’s staff and lawyers. They strictly construe “inadvertent” and “intentional” by citing the high level of competence which an ATP or AMT must have to perform his or her job. They basically assert that these certificate holders must have intentionally or advertently failed to meet the regulation involved because her or his ability would not fail to have met the rule.

This problem does not require any statutory amendment or the dreaded amendment of the FARs. What is required is the Administrator explaining to his lawyers the basic premise of SMS, ASAP, VDRP and ASRS; to wit, that human beings do make mistakes, that those errors are important opportunities to improve safety performance and that these reports provide a critical tool to assuring that the behavior is not repeated. The basic philosophy of these programs is that fixing blame to the errors of pilots, mechanics and all safety professionals is not the goal, that trying to determine what went wrong and then defining a correction are the goals of these safety programs.

Member Goglia, ALPA , IAM, AMFA and other unions have the credibility and the access to talk to Administrator Huerta. They can cite the evidence of instances in which their members do not submit report because they are aware of the FAA lawyers’ interpretation which harms safety, as defined in SMS and other FAA policy statements. Perhaps there may be the intentional or advertent action, but their inappropriate use of the program does not warrant the diminution of the potential safety enhancements which the reports can produce. The Administrator can make the value of ASAP, ASRS, VDRP, etc. a priority over the lawyers’ enforcement records.

Such a simple statement by the Administrator, much like the policy pronouncement of the Flight Standards Director, will reinstate the credibility of these programs. There is an easy corrective action to this problem and a set of users who can make it happen.

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