Copying A Good Idea

Every now and then, one comes across an example of a safety program that could be emulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In the UK, there is a program known as CHIRP, for Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Program, in which pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers and mechanics can anonymously report safety problems. The best, or most instructive, of the reports are published quarterly by CHIRP Feedback, an electronic bulletin. There is nothing comparable to this program in the U.S., and there should be. To be sure, there is the aviation action safety program (ASAP), but those confidential reports are not regularly mined and pertinent examples regularly published for the benefit of the industry.

Although separate from the Civil Aviation Authority, CHIRP is funded by it. To be sure, many operators in the UK support their own confidential reporting schemes. But CHIRP covers all operators and its feedback goes to the community at large – providing a very useful insight into trends across all operators.

Here is an example, with the CHIRP response:

“Our company is increasingly using the threat of disciplinary action when investigating the details of company safety report events. It is so bad that I am now no longer submitting any safety reports unless they do not concern how I have operated the aircraft. I recently have had two events that would merit input to the flight safety review of the airline but I fear that may be disciplined if I report the incidents.

“The problem is that if you submit a safety report the investigating officer believes he is entitled to pull the whole flight data for the entire flight and not the relevant data relating to the incident. For example, if a go-around is flown one might be asked to explain why you flew a certain speed 100 NM from destination! It’s a complete blame culture. The management believe that they are reacting to the safety events in the business but, as no one is filing any safety reports, they are missing what is really going on and cannot effectively manage areas of ongoing high risk. In some cases, First Officers are dragged into the office if a safety report is submitted in order to gain as much extra information as possible before the Captain has to account for him/herself.

“I have also heard that during command line training new captains have been advised not to file a safety report unless it appeared on the list of events that required to be reported; otherwise they could render themselves liable to being disciplined.

“I seek a guarantee of no disciplinary action being taken except in cases of gross misconduct or, if this cannot be given the introduction of a confidential reporting system within the airlines.

CHIRP Comment: With the reporter’s consent, the concerns were raised with the company, who subsequently provided a detailed reponse.

“The company policy relating to the use of data or information recorded by the Flight Data Monitoring program has been negotiated and agreed with the Pilots’ Company Council and, in the case of company safety report investigations, was strictly limited to the ASR [aviation safety reporting] event.

“Company safety investigations were always conducted separately from administrative/disciplinary procedures and some management functions had been recently restructured to enhance this policy.

“The company kept under review the number of company safety reports submitted; the overall number had not reduced significantly. Notwithstanding this, in independent safety audit of company bases was shortly to be undertaken.

“In CHIRP’s, this report is a reminder of the importance of ensuring that company safety and disciplinary policies are segregated and that this is clearly understood by all relevant employee groups.”

Amen to the last point. What is useful here is not only the basic pilot report, but the CHIRP investigation, comment and publication in an air transport safety newsletter. The 12-page newsletter is circulated electronically to all licensed pilots, air traffic control officers, and maintenance staff. What a marvelous idea – worthy of emulation.