Workforce AAR

Opinion: The Most Important Data Of All

FAA is working to add safety-centric maintenance data.

Capturing and distilling maintenance data is all the rage these days, and it’s not just about improving reliability or predictability. Operators are collecting more data than ever as part of safety programs. Some are required, but most are voluntary.

If FAA has its way, the next version of its popular (and voluntary) Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) will increase the flow of data tied to maintenance-related events. The agency is working on an update to its ASAP advisory circular (AC), which was last changed in 2002.

ASAP programs are voluntary reporting of safety-related issues, such as a technician making a mistake during a repair procedure. The goal is to uncover trends that highlight problems--unclear work instructions, deficient company policies, etc.--before they lead to serious incidents or accidents. As of April 1, ASAP counted about 190 participants, with 85% reporting participation by their maintenance staff.

While the figure is impressive at first glance, many ASAP participants report that getting regular participation from maintenance personnel is a challenge. Part of the reason is the program’s emphasis on capturing reports quickly—usually within 24 hours of becoming aware of an event. 

While this works well for flight operations, when errors such as a missed clearance are immediately apparent and often acknowledged, many maintenance issues are not discovered for days or even weeks. And when they are uncovered, it is often by someone besides the person responsible. 

Too often, it seems, the push to report within a day of "becoming aware of an event" caveat is understood to mean "when the event happened."

Speaking at a recent safety conference, FAA Flight Standards Service Director John Duncan said the program’s evolution--helped along by the new AC—should include “somewhat loosened” constraints designed to emphasize the importance of getting more data, period. FAA hopes this will lead to greater participation from maintenance providers in not just ASAP, but also the broader Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program that combines datasets, such as ASAP, from participating organizations and other sources. As of March 1, ASIAS boasted about 50 air carrier participants and 40 general aviation operators, but only two dedicated MRO providers—AAR and Haeco Americas.

Maintenance providers have myriad ways they collect and use data as part of internal safety and quality programs, so an apparent lack of enthusiasm for broader industry efforts should not be seen as a deficiency. That said, increased participation in these large efforts would be a positive step on the data-driven path to making aviation even safer.

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