By Steven Daun, National Chief Pilot
For those of you who play the board game Monopoly, you know what the “Get out of jail free” card is all about. It gives you a second chance to continue playing the game without a fine. There is a similar concept in aviation under the Aviation Safety Reporting System or ASRS.
After WWII the aviation industry and military recognized the value of voluntary incident reporting. In April of 1975, there was a study of the National Air Transportation system, which resulted in the Aviation Safety System being established one year later in April 1976. The goal of this program is to understand more about the circumstances leading up to an aircraft or pilot incident. The result was the “Aviation Safety Reporting Program” as we know it today. This program is available to pilots, controllers, flight attendants, maintenance personnel, dispatchers and anyone else who uses the National Airspace System. FAR “§91.25 Aviation Safety Reporting Program: Prohibition against use of reports for enforcement purposes.” This rule states that “The Administrator of the FAA will not use reports submitted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Aviation Safety Reporting Program (or information derived therefrom) in any enforcement action except information concerning accidents or criminal offenses which are wholly excluded from the Program.”
The key to the program’s success is the confidentiality of the independent system run by NASA, a neutral party with no power of enforcement. By eliminating the fear of penalty or one’s wings being taken away; pilots and aviation personnel are more inclined to voluntarily report incidents of near misses and close calls in the greater interest of improving air safety.
AC 00-46E details the program. In section 5 “Prohibition against the use of reports for enforcement purposes.” Part “(a) Background” states that “Designed and operated by NASA, the NASA ASRS security system ensures the confidentiality and anonymity of the reporter, and other parties as appropriate, involved in a reported occurrence or incident. The FAA will not seek, and NASA will not release or make available to the FAA, any report filed with NASA under the ASRS or any other information that might reveal the identity of any party involved in an occurrence or incident reported under the ASRS. There has been no breach of confidentiality in more than 34 years of the ASRS under NASA management.”
Both agencies felt that if they gave pilots the ability to self-disclose the events leading up to certain incidents, they could affect change in education and procedures to enhance safety. The program has been a tremendous success in helping both agencies get into the mind of pilots when “things happen.” The reporting form can either be mailed or completed electronically on the internet. The pilot is the one who initiates the process, and you need to do it as soon as the event occurs. My advice is that you always keep a printed copy in your flight bag ready to go. You should also keep the link on one of your electronic devices in case you can’t find your printed copy. https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov
As with most rules, there are some limitations. A NASA report does not protect the pilot in the event of an accident or criminal offense. This is where knowing the rules comes in. When was the last time you reviewed AC-00-46E, Part 91, NTSB 830 or even the AIM? Do you know the difference between an incident and an accident? Take some time to review and familiarize yourself with these resources. If the time comes, it does pay to know the rules.