Inspector General Says ATSAP Needs Work

 - July 30, 2012, 4:45 PM
The Oshkosh tower at Wittman Regional Airport is at it's busiest during the annual EAA AirVenture show. (Photo: Jim Upton)

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on July 19 outlining additional steps necessary to make the FAA’s Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP) more effective at identifying safety risks. ATSAP is a voluntary, nonpunitive reporting program established by the FAA in 2008 for air traffic controllers to report safety risks.  

The OIG said, “As of December 31, 2011, FAA has collected more than 41,000 reports, and the program shows promise as a tool to promote increased safety reporting. Yet, FAA has only recently developed processes to analyze ATSAP data to identify safety trends and to share valuable safety data with individual air traffic facilities. In addition, due to ATSAP provisions designed to protect controller confidentiality, much of the ATSAP data the FAA collects are not validated. In particular, unknown events, making up approximately 50 percent of all ATSAP event reports, are not verified for accuracy before being accepted.”

The OIG is also concerned that, “Failure to address potential deficiencies in transparency and accountability may lead to the perception that ATSAP is an amnesty program in which reports are automatically accepted, regardless of whether they qualify under the program’s guidelines.”

In a rebuttal released shortly after the OIG report, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) answered a number of the report’s concerns in a prepared statement. In one example where the OIG said, “Deficiencies with ATSAP data analysis limit FAA efforts to identify and mitigate safety risks,” the union disagreed. It responded, “ATSAP has boosted the number of reports filed [and] increased the resolution of safety issues around the country. This is a direct result of the robust and comprehensive data analysis processes currently in place.”

A number of chairmen and ranking members of Senate and House Transportation Committees asked the OIG to evaluate the FAA’s effectiveness at implementing ATSAP, as well as to determine the administration’s oversight of the program. The program is governed by, among other things, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) established between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).