Air Charter Safety Foundation Asap Expands To West Coast

 - May 2, 2014, 1:10 AM

The Air Charter Safety Foundation’s aviation safety action program (Asap) is now available to operators based in the FAA’s Western Pacific region. The first charter operator to sign up for Asap on the West Coast is Van Nuys-based Jet Edge. A charter operator in the further reaches of that region–Guam–is also interested in joining Asap, according to ACSF president Bryan Burns. Other operators in California and Nevada have expressed interest as well, and efforts are under way to introduce the ASAP into the New England region, too.

The Asap brings airline-like reporting of safety issues to Part 135 charter operators, including the immunity provision that prevents the FAA from using Asap reports for enforcement actions. “The whole point is it’s designed to identify and report safety issues that would potentially go unreported to management,” Burns said. “The key is immunity and the fact that the FAA won’t use these to take legal action against the employees who filed the reports.”

The ACSF Asap started in 2012 in the Great Lakes region, and there are now six operators participating there. To sign up, an operator needs to work with its local FAA principal operations inspector and sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that outlines how the program is structured and will be administered, including the immunity provisions. Immunity does not include willful and gross misconduct, drugs, alcohol or intentional rule-breaking. “This is all stated in our MOU,” he said.

Participants Share Safety Data

As more operators join the Asap, the ACSF shares de-identified safety data with all participants. “Most of these small to medium operators may get two or ten reports a month,” Burns explained, “but there’s not a lot of data [from each operator]. When we start looking at all this data collectively [from all participants], we’ll be able to discern what to use for corrective action or training.” The reports are evaluated by the ACSF event reporting committee, which includes FAA, company and ACSF personnel.

As of March, the ACSF Asap had collected 63 reports, and some of these resulted in changes to standard operating procedures and manuals, checklist changes and in one case an avionics manufacturer’s updating of its FMS software. An operator that highlighted a problem with passenger distractions during critical phases of flight changed its passenger briefing procedures and updated its agreements with passengers to emphasize limited interaction with the crew during critical flight phases.

“Everything we do is intended to put measurable, quantifiable results into the equation,” Burns said.

A future step for the ACSF is to add Part 91 flight departments to the Asap, not just Part 135 and 91K (fractional) operators. “We’re hearing from FAA FSDOs that they are encouraging Part 91 operators to participate,” he said. “We hope that will facilitate an addendum to the MOU that will incorporate them into the program.”

Beyond the cost of membership of the ACSF, there is currently no charge to operators who want to participate in the Asap. The ACSF is evaluating a fee structure as the Asap grows, however, to cover the cost of running the event reporting committee and managing data gathering and dissemination and providing the Web-based application tool software that is central to the Asap.

Ben Walsh, director of safety for charter/management provider Jet Edge, has a corporate aviation and airline background and always wondered why tools like the Asap weren’t available for non-airline operations. “It seems like a no-brainer for any operator to implement,” he said. While Jet Edge’s FAA inspectors weren’t initially aware of the Asap, they were open to the opportunity and Walsh was able to persuade them to learn about the program. It took about a year to implement the Asap, including time lost to last fall’s government shutdown, and on February 1 Jet Edge went live with the program.

Jet Edge’s pilots, technicians, dispatchers and cabin attendants are filing an Asap report about every 3.5 days. The reporting uses software similar to the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System form, according to Walsh. Not only does the Asap guarantee immunity, but none of these records will follow a pilot around during his career. The participating operator and even FAA inspectors get immunity as well.

What Jet Edge does with the reports depends on the nature of the problem. For one example, Jet Edge used four months of flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) data to evaluate the occurrence of unstabilized approaches. Other areas being examined include rotation rates and second-segment climb performance, taxi speeds and more.

Every year, each pilot undergoes an extra day of no-jeopardy training to address issues such as unstabilized approaches or any other Asap-generated problem. “Asap will tell you why these are happening,” he explained. “If you get a FOQA report and the crew files a report about jamming up with ATC or a weather problem, you get a bigger picture.

“We’re all about that proactive decision,” Walsh said. “It’s a huge change from what our pilots have experienced. We know about what’s happening and we’re not going to be caught off guard. Many operators know nothing about what’s going on until there’s an accident.”

“The challenge is making sure that everybody is well educated about what the program is,” ACSF’s Burns concluded. “The FAA and FSDOs have done a great job getting the message out.”