Across the aviation industry, it is standard practice for frontline employees to submit safety reports to share concerns or report honest mistakes. The operator then analyzes these reports in an attempt to improve safety. But there are many different types of safety reports out there, and not all of them are created equal.
If you fly in the United States, you’ve likely heard of the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and the Aviation Safety Reporting Service (ASRS). They are perhaps best known for offering robust legal protection if an employee inadvertently violated a regulation.
While ASAP has been widely embraced by airlines, business jet and other general aviation operators have historically used ASRS instead. But that is changing, as each year more and more flight departments and maintenance facilities are turning to ASAP.
While ASRS is a phenomenal program, the next logical evolution for an established flight department is to embrace ASAP.
But what are the differences between these two reporting programs, and why migrate to ASAP? Let’s explore the benefits ASAP provides for flight departments and frontline employees.
The Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) is a program run by NASA that provides a platform for any person operating in the national airspace system (NAS) to submit safety reports and self-disclose inadvertent violations and errors anonymously. From student pilots to airline captains, all can use ASRS. It serves as a great “catch-all” to ensure all NAS users have a place to voice concerns and acknowledge their mistakes.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decided that participation would be significantly enhanced if the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), rather than the FAA, handled the sensitive data contained in these reports. Preserving anonymity in this way cultivates trust in the program, resulting in a more significant influx of reports.
ASRS is also relatively hands-off for the operator. NASA handles the ASRS reports and decides whether to extend immunity to the reporter or not.
But there is a program with slightly more robust protections: enter ASAP.
The FAA created the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) to provide all workers in an organization the opportunity to submit safety reports that can help prevent future accidents and incidents. From pilots to food caterers, all are welcome.
ASAP is not a program designed around the practice of “punishment.” Instead, corrective actions (enhanced training or procedural changes) are used. Even re-training undertaken due to an ASAP report is protected from public disclosure and will not be on an employee's FAA record.
Personnel can only submit ASAP reports and be afforded these enhanced protections if their flight department voluntarily participates. Reports are handled in-house by participants from the operator and the FAA.
At first glance, ASAP may seem like a lot of work. So why would a flight department choose ASAP?
ASRS reports are handled outside of the flight department by highly trained individuals at NASA. However, ASAP reports are handled in-house by a dedicated group of individuals called the Event Review Committee (ERC). The ERC is usually a two or three-member panel consisting of a certificate holder/company representative, a representative from the relevant employee group (optional), and an FAA representative.
These individuals have a deep understanding of the organization and its operation. As a result, they can provide crucial context to a submitted ASAP report and are in a unique position to make targeted and meaningful corrective actions.
This does not mean that the reporter’s identity is revealed to people within the company. There are checks and balances in place to ensure that the ERC does not see any identifying information (such as names) when reviewing ASAP reports. (However, it can be more difficult to shield reporters from being identified in high-profile situations or small flight departments. Regardless of whether the ERC knows who the reporter is, the reporter’s names will NOT be disclosed outside of the ERC to the company or FAA.)
While both programs provide “immunity,” there are some caveats to this, and they differ between each program. Under ASRS, immunity means protection from civil penalty or certificate suspension. So while the FAA can’t use the ASRS report against the pilot, the FAA can still file a violation in the pilot’s records.
However, individuals whose ASAP reports are accepted by the ERC will never undergo FAA action.
Another positive about ASAP is that the criteria for accepting an ASAP report are particular and laid out in detail in Advisory Circular AC 120-66C. This means your report cannot be rejected from the program just because a member of the ERC is having a bad day or has a personal issue with the report.
Conversely, the ASRS criteria are vaguer, leaving it more open to interpretation by the person handling your report. Full guidelines for ASRS immunity can be found in Advisory Circular AC 00-46F.
An ASAP program can also augment an operator’s existing Safety Management System (SMS) in ways that ASRS cannot. Having an ASAP program indicates that the organization is serious about improving safety. ASAP allows operators to earn a higher safety rating while also collecting valuable data on hazards and unsafe trends in the workplace. And with more robust legal protections than ASRS, ASAP may help employees feel more comfortable to come forward with more concerns and errors than before.
If the ERC fails to manage ASAP reports objectively and fairly, employees will lose trust in the system and stop submitting reports. But a successful ASAP ERC has the power to create an unprecedented relationship of trust between the frontline workers and the company.
If reports are handled fairly and objectively, workers will feel protected when they come forward with safety issues or errors. When workers feel like the company takes their safety and wellbeing seriously, this can translate into increased morale and reporting.
Regardless of these benefits, some widespread misconceptions cause a barrier to embracing ASAP.
Despite ASAP's successful and relatively long history, many still misunderstand the program. Some individuals may believe that ASAP is about punishing the individual, and submitting a report will get them into trouble. Conversely, others also believe that submitting an ASAP report is a "get out of jail free card" and absolves the individual from any repercussions.
Neither statement is correct. Let's fact-check some of the common beliefs associated with ASAP.
ASAP improves safety.
Voluntary safety programs, such as ASAP, have been credited with reducing fatal commercial aviation accidents over the past ten years. Encouraging a greater level of information sharing can significantly aid in detecting and correcting hazards before they metastasize into something more serious. To learn about the fatal accident that triggered the invention of ASRS and ASAP, click here to read the blog.
ASAP is just a program for when employees do something wrong.
Employees are encouraged not to wait until something unsafe happens before submitting a report. Instead, if they foresee a safety issue developing, they are encouraged to submit an ASAP report for that as well! This enables the operator to deal with problems before they become costly incidents and accidents.
Only pilots are covered ASAP.
ASAP covers a wide range of employees from flight departments to repair stations. These include, but are not limited to, pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers, and ground personnel. The operator decides how vastly ASAP will extend across their operation.
Operators need assistance from a third-party company to help run an ASAP program.
Most airlines self-govern their ASAP programs. Small and medium-sized flight departments can do so as well! But it can be intimidating. To help give flight departments the confidence to effectively self-govern an ASAP program, the AvBrite team, in conjunction with Polaris Aero, have developed two eLearning courses - “ASAP for ERC Members” and “ASAP for Personnel.”
“ASAP for ERC Members” provides future ERCs with the skills to run an ASAP program while establishing a working relationship with other members of the ERC. “ASAP for Personnel” ensures that all employees fully understand ASAP and their rights within the program to help facilitate greater reporting. Moreover, these courses “connect the dots” by providing tutorials on Polaris Aero’s VOCUS ASAP module. This combination was designed with the primary goal of simplifying ASAP self-governance.
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Filing an ASAP report will protect people who intentionally disregard the rules.
Immunity is there to give report submitters the confidence to speak up about their concerns. It should also help encourage better and more frequent safety reporting. But this does not mean that ASAP is a "get out of jail free" card. An acceptable ASAP report cannot involve any fraudulent behavior or reckless conduct. Although rare, they do happen. There are several criteria will lead a report to be rejected ASAP, discussed in Advisory Circular AC 120-66C.
The FAA has a centralized ASAP database.
Contrary to popular belief, the FAA does not have a database of ASAP reports collected from throughout the industry.
ASAP reports ONLY reside within the company's SMS, and the company may choose to use any SMS software that facilitates ASAP reporting. The FAA does not have access to the reports or the names of reporters. Names and personal information are even sanitized before the eyes of the ERC. If the operator wishes to share insights from their ASAP program throughout the industry, they can do so securely through the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS).
Both ASAP and ASRS have changed the safety landscape in the United States for the better. Thanks to the thousands of reports submitted by frontline employees each year, many accidents may have been prevented. But as flight departments grow and mature, so must their safety programs. Is ASAP the next logical step for you and your flight department?
If you want more information on setting up an ASAP program or need a helping hand, reach out to us here.
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