NATCA Strongly Defends ATSAP Program
Thursday, July 26, 2012
More than four years after its groundbreaking implementation, the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP) has emerged as both highly effective and enormously valuable in the collaborative effort to make the world’s safest airspace system even safer.
More than 60 percent of the 21,462 Air Traffic Organization (ATO) employees who are eligible to participate in the ATSAP program have submitted at least one ATSAP report.
“We agree with the FAA that this marks a giant step forward for safety,” said NATCA Safety Committee Chairman Steve Hansen. “The ATO now has more and better-detailed safety data than before. The high level of participation shows controllers see the program as a way to improve safety.”
However, a Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General’s report, issued on Monday, cast a critical light on the program. The DOT stated an opinion that the long-term success of ATSAP will require improvements in oversight, accountability and transparency.
NATCA disagrees with many of the statements in the report. The Union issued a press release expressing an opposing view and reaffirming its strong support for the program.
Several of Hansen’s quotes were used in the release and were widely picked up by national and aviation media. Hansen made it quite clear that, since the beginning of 2008, NATCA’s bottom line has been that ATSAP has met and exceeded all expectations.
"No other safety program has identified and fixed more local and systemic problems than the ATSAP program," Hansen said.
Hansen said that NATCA agrees with comments made by DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel III during a House Aviation Subcommittee testimony last week that a non-punitive safety reporting system like ATSAP is a strong inducement to better reporting of safety issues. However, the Union has several concerns about some criticisms the IG has made regarding the program.
Below are NATCA’s responses to five of the most concerning comments made by the IG in the report:
DOT IG: “Deficiencies with ATSAP data analysis limit FAA efforts to identify and mitigate safety risks.”
NATCA: While there is always room for improvement, the ATSAP program is a major leap forward. It has boosted the number of reported problems filed with federal authorities and increased the resolution rate of safety issues around the country. This is a direct result of the robust and comprehensive data analysis processes currently in place. For example, we are members of and work closely with the well-regarded Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing program. We give our information to the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System. We also use experts from the Fort Hill Group, a risk mitigation firm, to analyze our information and provide reports.
DOT IG: “The data that FAA relies on for identifying safety trends are often not verified for accuracy by the ERCs (Event Review Committees).”
NATCA: We gather both subjective and objective data – on purpose. We neither need nor want to validate everything we learn because we want the unadulterated views of the safety professionals submitting reports. The goal is to compare the safety professionals’ versions to what actually happened. That gives us the best data to act upon.
DOT IG: “FAA does not effectively communicate safety data to facilities.”
NATCA: We disagree with this statement. The FAA provides every facility regular ATSAP briefing sheets, covering a vast array of important topics that affect every air traffic controller. This statement is clearly printed at the top of the cover page of the briefing sheets: “Please post throughout your facility, and utilize the subject and lessons learned during crew briefings as a method to raise awareness within the workforce.
In addition, facilities can – and often do – submit requests to the ATSAP program to support local initiatives that address safety problems. These help both nationally and locally because safety risks and trends affect controllers all over the country.
DOT IG: “Facility managers do not always understand their rights and obligations under ATSAP.”
NATCA: The FAA has provided every conceivable resource to facility managers to understand the full scope of the program. Training was provided during the initial rollout. Follow-up training sessions were also conducted and ATSAP communications, as stated above, have been successful and comprehensive.
In addition, the ATSAP ERC members also participate in the Operational Supervisor’s Workshops on a monthly basis. This training provides front line managers with training about ATSAP’s processes and participants’ responsibilities. The workshops also provide front line managers with the ability to directly ask the ERC members questions, which they regularly do.
DOT IG: “FAA’s oversight of ATSAP lacks management controls in key areas.”
NATCA: The FAA, in fact, reviews the effectiveness of ERC decisions and of corrective action requests. The program office tracks the completion of the requests, the responses to them and the implementation of the corrective action plans that follow. Facilities must tell the ERC if the implementation of the corrective action plans and any skill enhancement training were effective. The ERC determines if an issue was successfully completed.
Gone, thankfully, are the days of “one size fits all” in the area of working to mitigate safety risks in the system. The success of the FAA’s move to a true safety culture has stressed effective, proactive training rather than punitive training. This works better. When safety professionals make mistakes, they can now learn from those errors, self-correct and improve. The system is safer as a result.
Hansen made it clear, despite the IG’s opinion, that the ATO is analyzing and acting on the data it receives through ATSAP to improve safety.
“Much of this data might have remained unknown and uncollected if not for ATSAP,” he said. “The FAA’s data validates our long-held belief that our reporting system works and is helping to keep America’s aviation system the safest in the world. We are continuing to collaborate with the FAA to improve the system and enhance aviation safety."
The full DOT IG report, complete with the FAA’s written response, is available HERE.