Air Transport World

Pre-emptive fraternity. (includes related article on flight-operations-quality-assurance programs)

'Cooperative partnership' is becoming the key airline slogan for prevention of accidents

After years of engaging in a virtual adversarial relationship, the U.S. FAA, U.S. airline management and airline pilots are starting to realize the advantages of working together as partners to determine causes of accidents before, rather than after, they occur.

Pilots have been understandably reluctant to report mistakes or deviations when doing so literally could cost their livelihood--from either having their licenses revoked by FAA or from being fired by their airline. The airlines, in turn, were reluctant to be totally honest with FAA, as this could lead to thousands, if not millions, of dollars in fines for what often were simple administrative errors.

While FAA is responsible for safeR, it also is responsible for regulatory enforcement-- two offices that--in the area of accumulating safety data--often are oxymoronic.

A family of programs has been put into place to provide for the accumulation of safety information, the most notable being the Aviation Safety Reporting System program, created in 1976 and controlled by NASA.

Unfortunately, while ASRS is considered highly effective in compiling data, it has been found to fall under the Freedom of Information Act, meaning that a pilot who reports a flight deviation in confidence, suddenly may find it on the front page of the Los Angeles Times--a fact that does not contribute to total openness, although ASRS still is a significant bank of safety data.

The airlines themselves were getting virtually no feedback from their pilots on potential problems. Capt. Tom Martin, managing director-international/safety for American Airlines, said his office received very few written reports from the pilots. "We felt that less than 4% of the things that were happening to our flight crews ever were reported to us and to the FAA," he said. "That is a big gap between events that occur out there and what we have a knowledge of."

However, in the past few years, three events have transpired that appear to be having a significant impact on the concept of developing a partnership rather than an adversarial relationship for aviation safety.

The first was development of Altitude Awareness programs by USAir and Alaska Airlines. After a large number of pilots received violation action by the FAA for altitude deviations, the airlines went to FAA and ALPA to develop a program aimed at ending both the deviations and the violation actions.

Under the programs worked out among the three groups, any pilot experiencing an altitude deviation could report it to a special group formed to study the deviations and reasons for them.

The pilots were not granted immunity from disciplinary action automatically. However, the program was developed as a partnership to provide corrective rather than punitive action. …

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