In the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill, Congress issued specific directives concerning the voluntary reporting of safety information. The mandates come in the wake of a draft advisory circular (AC) published for public comment earlier this year, aiming to align the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) with the FAA’s new compliance philosophy and encourage more participation. The surge in congressional and regulatory action surrounding voluntary reporting and big data coincides with employer emphasis on obtaining real-time feedback from maintenance personnel.
The FAA ASAP—an avenue for flight crew, dispatchers, ramp workers and mechanics to report safety issues—was initiated by the Transportation secretary and FAA administrator in 1995. The program is voluntary and formalized through a memorandum of understanding between the certificate holder and the agency.
ASAP reports are deemed “acceptable,” and therefore accompanied by enforcement-related incentives, if they meet specific criteria. The FAA reauthorization bill would mandate a presumption by the agency that submitted reports are “acceptable,” and require them to be accompanied by disclaimers until they are officially reviewed.
Proposed changes to FAA ASAP AC 120-66C would replace current memoranda of understanding with partnership agreements, remove rigid programmatic deadlines and encourage event-review committees to develop their own ASAP policies and procedures tailored to their operational environments. The proposal also takes into consideration necessary interfaces with safety management systems, provides guidelines for reporting events concerning hazardous materials, and has options for random sampling assessments in lieu of two-year program renewals. An FAA spokesman says the revised AC is expected to be published before year-end.
While the new congressional directives and agency guidance proposals include welcome changes, the drive for data combined with efforts to enhance safety have participating companies looking for ways to engender internal buy-in for the program.
Jennifer Hoagland, ASAP manager at Republic Airlines, has initiated a company-wide effort to increase voluntary information reporting. “We identified that our maintenance personnel could improve in reporting safety concerns, especially when compared to other operational areas in the company,” Hoagland says. The airline opted to take a peer-directed approach in its effort to increase quality system reporting.
Republic Airlines also implemented an ambassador program to promote voluntary reporting. Volunteer ASAP ambassadors at each maintenance base attend mandatory training and quarterly meetings with other ambassadors. To ensure a top-down approach, the program is wholly endorsed by leadership, and all quality personnel are encouraged to report, including those in the supply chain and materials departments.
Hoagland says the grassroots program has resulted in a 163% increase in reporting. “We see initial improvements in reporting safety concerns from our maintenance personnel and are pleased to see that the peer-driven plan is working.” So much so that Republic plans to expand the program and name at least one ambassador per base, per shift.
It has yet to be seen whether the congressional directive aimed at protecting voluntary reporters will drive additional participation. An FAA representative was not able to comment on how the agency would incorporate congressional mandates, since the legislation had not been thoroughly reviewed. While ASAP statistics are not made public, the official confirmed that voluntary reporting continues to grow as the scope of those eligible to participate or report broadens.
There are currently 234 repair station and airline ASAP program participants, 86% of those with maintenance voluntary reporting programs.