New FAA Safety Culture Reflected in Operational Error Reporting




New FAA Safety Culture Reflected in Operational Error Reporting

By Bill Goldston



July 21, 2009, WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) yesterday took another step toward a new safety culture by reducing the emphasis on blame in the reporting of operational errors by air traffic controllers.  

“We’re moving away from a culture of blame and punishment,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “It’s important to note that controllers remain accountable for their actions, but we’re moving toward a new era that focuses on why these events occur and what can be done to prevent them.”  

Effective immediately, the names of controllers will not be included in reports sent to FAA headquarters on operational errors, which occur when the proper distance between aircraft is not maintained. The controller’s identity will be known at the facility where the event took place.


Necessary training will be conducted and disciplinary action taken, if appropriate. Both will be recorded in the controller’s record. Removing names on the official report will allow investigators to focus on what happened rather than who was at fault. “We need quality information in order to identify problems and learn from incidents before they become accidents,” Babbitt said. “The best sources of that information are our front-line employees. Our success depends on their willingness to identify safety concerns.”  

In order to avoid disrupting operations, controllers will not be automatically removed from their position following an operational error unless it is deemed necessary to remove them. Another change designed to avoid disruptions allows reports to be filed by the close of the next business day unless the operational error is significant. Reports previously had to be filed within four hours.

This action is part of the transition to the FAA’s new non-punitive reporting system for controllers. The Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP), which now covers one-third of the country, allows controllers and other employees to report safety problems without fear of punishment unless the incident is deliberate or criminal in nature. Today’s change in the reporting requirements for operational errors provides for a more seamless transition as ATSAP is rolled out to the entire country.  

The reporting changes do not alter the investigation and analysis of operational errors. They also do not change the requirements for addressing the causal and contributing factors to those events.

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