Lax Implementation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Voluntary Safety Reporting, in Contrast to Stern Actions to Private Certificate Holders, Sends Bad Aviation Safety Message

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ARTICLE:  FAA Error Reporting Gives Amnesty for Sleeping, Report Says


The FAA has found considerable value in getting important safety information through voluntary disclosure. The voluntary safety reporting program (FAA Report to Congress on Voluntary Safety Programs) has been declared a success by the agency. It has applied the same principles to Air Traffic Control to capture the same type of data , which allows the FAA to take preventative action; this program is called the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP).

The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General (IG) has issued a report indicating that the implementation of ATSAP and the findings were disappointing. The IG reported that the FAA does not validate the collected data and there is no mechanism to assess “the effectiveness of decisions made by the program’s review committees to ensure that report acceptance criteria are rigorously followed and that conduct issues are dealt with appropriately.” The report concluded that ATSAP more resembles an amnesty program to protect the controllers from discipline, rather than the proactive safety actions, which are the goals of ATSAP and VDRP. As emphasized by Chairman Mica:

“The intent of the reporting program is to improve aviation safety, not to provide amnesty to controllers who like to watch movies or take a nap while on the job.”

The problem is further exacerbated by the apparently different VDRP and ATSAP program management principles by the agency. With ATSAP the FAA, does not appear to be taking positive action in response to reports. In contrast, when certificate holders report under VDRP, the FAA uses the data to take appropriate actions.

In managing these voluntary disclosure programs, the FAA should apply the same standards to both otherwise it sends a disparate and bad safety message.

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