New Pilot Deviation Rules Surprise Pilots

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The Airline Pilots Association is advising members (PDF) to voluntarily report to the FAA Aviation Safety Action Program even the most minor deviation from ATC instructions, regardless of their origin (i.e., equipment failure or even weather deviations) or risk being written up for a pilot deviation (PD). Although airline pilots are more likely to run afoul of a new FAA internal reporting policy for deviations, it applies to all aircraft under active control, and the consequences can include FAA enforcement and a note on a pilot's permanent record. While the intent of the policy shift appears to be to encourage pilots to self-report deviations (doing so triggers enforcement "incentives" that reduce the consequences) ALPA says pilots who have been assured by controllers that the transgression is a minor one not worthy of FAA attention have found out later that they've been written up.

In one case, according to ALPA, a Delta crew departing Atlanta on autopilot went off track briefly when the autopilot disconnected. They flew manually to the correct track and were assured by the controller that it was "no problem." Under the new rules, however, that controller was required to report the incident and it was forwarded to a "quality assurance 'clearing house'" that ultimately decided if an enforceable pilot deviation occurred. In that spirit, ALPA has essentially invited its pilots to flood the system with reports. "Any safety-related event, any slight deviation from clearance, even if not noted by ATC, should be documented via ASAP," ALPA advised its members. "Again, if in doubt, file. If you have doubt, and that doubt is somehow dispelled later, file anyway! Do not let assurances from ATC convince you that an ASAP report is somehow unnecessary." It's recommending that all members of the cockpit crew file the reports and that they also consider filing one to the NASA Aviation Safety and Reporting System, whose mandate is to collect air safety data rather than mitigate enforcement action.