Regionals hoping to stem tide of distrust toward ASAP

 - January 30, 2009, 5:41 AM

Growing distrust between elements within various pilot groups and airline management over the use of confidential safety information is threatening the integrity and effectiveness of the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), according to the Regional Airline Association. In fact, the issue dominated the discourse during a December meeting of some 20 regional airline safety directors at RAA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Instituted to encourage employees to voluntarily report safety problems and incidents, ASAP has recently come under fire by employees who charge that management has used the privileged information as the basis for disciplinary action.
Although the Air Line Pilots Association officially endorses the program, the ALPA-represented pilots of Cincinnati-based Comair and Delta Air Lines have allowed their ASAPs to expire, as have the pilots at American, represented by the Allied Pilots Association, and US Airways, represented by the US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA).

Although RAA vice president of technical affairs Dave Lotterer said that the issue “really involves the majors more than us,” he and RAA president Roger Cohen admitted that members have raised concern that employees at other regionals might want to follow the example of their pilot counterparts at Comair.

While the airlines insist that they haven’t used the information inappropriately, ASAP’s immunity language doesn’t allow a pilot to keep violating the same rule indefinitely, as long as he or she reports it. “If you have one pilot who’s consistently violating a particular rule and causing damage or whatever, at some point you have to take responsibility and take punitive action,” said Lotterer. “These are not get-out-of-jail-free cards.”

Former acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell has accused the pilot groups in question of using the threat of dropping ASAP as a negotiating tool during contract talks. “Using safety as a chip at the bargaining table is unconscionable,” he said in a prepared statement. “These voluntary reporting programs are crucial to safety, and it’s disappointing to see them cast aside at a time when they’re needed most.”
The local Comair unit flatly denies that it dropped ASAP for any reason other than management’s improper use of privileged information for disciplinary measures, however. “We’re not in Section 6 negotiations right now, so this is separate and apart from any contract stuff,” Comair master executive council vice chairman Fred Herman told AIN.

Herman explained that the conflict at Comair boiled down to a disagreement over whether or not the company had used so-called sole-source reports to conduct parallel investigations. By definition, a sole-source report contains only information discovered through voluntary reporting by the pilot in question. “If [an incident] was accepted into the ASAP [by an event review committee], then it would fall under the agreements and it was supposed to be excluded from disciplinary measures,” said Herman. “But over the last year or year-and-a-half there were quite a few incidents where there were sole-source reports where information had somehow leaked out and it was used in an investigation.”

There does appear some reason for optimism, however, if Lotterer proves correct in his assessment that most pilots favor the program, and that the problem lies not with a lack of willingness to participate on the part of the rank-and-file, but a failure by the local MECs and management to put to rest their mutual distrust.

At Comair, at least, union leadership appears more inclined to work toward a solution with the airline’s new president, John Bendoraitis, than with the previous leadership. “We are in talks with management right now about getting it back on the property, and if we can agree to language that is acceptable to both sides that buttons it up a little tighter than it was previously, then we’ll probably see it back here in the short term,” said Herman.