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Friday, January 1, 2010

NASA’s ASRS Program is for Helicopter Pilots, Too

By Joy Finnegan

Since 1976 the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), a voluntary program that encourages reports from aviation personnel including helicopter pilots and mechanics, has received hundreds of thousands of submissions. The ASRS receives the reports, processes and analyzes them, and in particular addresses human factors aspects of performance in the aviation system.

The ASRS states its objective is to “improve the current aviation system.” NASA is the administrative agency that oversees the program. The information from these reports, which are voluntary, confidential, and non-punitive, is gathered with the goal of enhancing human factors research and making recommendations for future aviation procedures and operations.

The system is explained in FAA Advisory Circular AC00-46D and is used to encourage the prevention of future incidents by fostering a constructive attitude of reporting.

The AC states that, “although a finding of violation may be made, neither a civil penalty nor certificate suspension will be imposed if the violation was inadvertent and not deliberate.” Section 91.25 of the FAA regulations prohibits the use of any reports submitted to NASA under the ASRS in any disciplinary action, except information concerning criminal offenses or accidents. The report must be filed within 10 days of the occurrence.

Experts such as retired aviation professionals, qualified researchers, systems specialists and maintenance professionals comprise the ASRS staff. The reports, once submitted, are reviewed by these staff members and compiled for trend statistics.

More than 4,200 reports are received each month. The form contains a tear-off strip with identifying information at the top. This gives the research staff an opportunity to call the submitter of the report to follow up and ask clarifying questions, although this is not always necessary. Once that is accomplished, the strip is removed, de-identifying the report. It is time-stamped and returned to the submitter and serves as proof that a report was filed. According to NASA, all reports sent to the ASRS are held in strict confidence. All identification information of the filer of the ASRS report and persons named in those reports will be deleted. This normally takes place within 72 hours, if no additional information is needed.

If a described situation is earmarked as hazardous, for example a defective navigation aid or a confusing procedure, an alerting message may be issued using the de-identified information. This relays the critical information to a person of authority who can evaluate and take corrective actions. In 2008 there were 40 alert messages issued.

Direct access to the ASRS database is available online at http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/serch.htm. A brief glance at the available information is fascinating and includes reports from an R44 pilot about a bird strike, an agricultural helicopter pilot encountering a wire while realigning and a HEMS pilot reporting frequency confusion at hospitals.

Copies of reporting forms (NASA ARC Form 277, Aviation Safety Report) may be obtained free of charge from FAA Flight Standards District Offices or Flight Service Stations or directly from NASA at: ASRS, PO Box 189, Moffett Field, CA 94035-0189. The form can also be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat pdf format from http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov.

There are several customized versions, including a form for pilots, dispatchers and one for mechanics. ASRS has developed a new feature enabling secure submission of an aviation safety report via the Internet. NASA says it realizes that trust is essential and has worked to ensure reports are handled securely.

Regardless of the method of submission, the identification strip at the top of the report will be printed, date stamped and returned to the sender by the U.S. mail as proof of the submission.

The ASRS publishes a monthly safety bulletin, “Callback,” that can be downloaded from the Internet as well: http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/publications/callback.html. It contains excerpts from ASRS incident reports.

The ASRS model has been adopted in numerous countries around the world, including the U.K., Canada, Australia and Russia.

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