Safety Reporting System in Limbo Over Trust Issue

Mon, Nov 17, 2008 — David Evans


American Airlines has ceased its Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) in the face of a dispute with its pilots union. The union, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), charges that the program has been cast into limbo because of mistrust.ASAP is a cooperative program that allows pilots to report on mistakes they’ve made without being punished – mistakes that would otherwise go unreported and uncorrected. ASAP is not intended as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for outrageous, unsafe, unprofessional behavior. Rather, it is intended to allow well-intentioned pilots to report on mistakes without fear of punishment.

ASAP basically complements FOQA (Flight Operations Quality Assurance) programs. Under FOQA, such things as premature flap deployment are recorded, and deviations from prescribed procedure are flagged for review. Basically, FOQA tells what happened and ASAP provides the human input as to why it happened.

Broadly speaking, the union tried to get new language that better protected pilots. Airline management tried to get new language not to protect pilots whose conduct was deemed unworthy of exemption.

The failure to reconcile difference has left management and the union pointing the finger of blame at each other. The St. Louis office of the APA, in a message to its pilots, said the problem was a lack of trust:

“It died not from lack of want, need or from abuse, but rather from mistrust. The messages you will hear from APA headquarters, the other domiciles and American Airlines will be filled with finger pointing, accusations, secret meetings and betrayals. You will see the parsing of sentences and positions, changing governmental demands, and New Age management mumbo-jumbo labeled ‘Just Culture.’

“While all or some of it may be true, the fact remains that none of that stuff is the reason you no longer have ASAP. You don’t have ASAP because management, in this case, Flight Department management, has lost the trust of its pilots. It is that simple. Without trust, it becomes exceedingly difficult to come to an agreement on anything.”

The message goes on to explain why pilots don’t trust management. And if management trusted the pilots’ union, it would not have insisted on the changes it wanted.

Of interest, if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required airlines to have FOQA and ASAP, the dispute between American Airlines management and the APA would be largely moot.

Since ASAP’s demise, pilots must use the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) program, called the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), to relate safety-related incidents, in which anonymity provides protection from prosecution.

It should be mentioned that some observers of ASAP and ASRS have seen a growing difference between the two reporting systems. ASRS reports have tended to be more frank and less hedging in their accounts of safety-related oversights or mistakes be cause they are not submitted to the airline.

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