Report: ATC Safety Program Not Working

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An FAA program for non-punitive reporting of safety concerns among air traffic controllers needs "significant improvements" before it can become effective, according to a report issued last Thursday by the Transportation Department Office of Inspector General. "Failure to address potential deficiencies in transparency and accountability may lead to the perception that the Air Traffic Safety Action Program is an amnesty program," the report says. For example, although the reports are meant to reveal safety issues while protecting the controllers who submit them, the OIG says reports have been accepted in the program that address "air traffic controller conduct issues," rather than performance concerns. For example, these include controllers falling asleep, viewing a personal video player while on position, and refusing to take handoffs.

The mainstream media was quick to jump on the report with headlines such as "FAA…Gives Amnesty For Sleeping," and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association was also quick to issue a response. NATCA addressed several of the details in the report, and concluded: "The bottom line is that since the beginning of implementation in 2008, no other safety program has identified and fixed more local and systemic problems than the ATSAP program. More than 60 percent of the 21,462 Air Traffic Organization employees who are eligible to participate in the ATSAP program have submitted at least one ATSAP report. We agree with the FAA that this marks a giant step forward for safety. The ATO now has more and better-detailed safety data than before." The OIG made 10 recommendations to the FAA to improve the program, such as clarifying their policies and better analyzing their data.