Facing pressure in the wake of the two high-profile crashes of Boeing 737 MAX airliners in late 2018 and early 2019, the FAA announced Monday (June 21) it is launching a new Voluntary Safety Reporting Program. The initiative is “an additional way for its engineers, safety inspectors, systems safety specialists, and other aviation safety employees to report safety-related issues and concerns,” according to the agency statement.
Under the program, the 7,400-strong FAA Aviation Safety workforce will be able to report safety concerns confidentially “without fear of punitive action.” The agency has faced scrutiny over concerns that it was not strict enough in its oversight of Boeing in the 737 MAX certification process, particularly in the area of its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
The FAA statement noted that it already has a long list of voluntary safety reporting programs in place, adding that the risk of a fatal air accident has decreased by 94 percent since 1998. But, as FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said, “We can never be satisfied with the status quo when it comes to safety, and the free exchange of vital information is a cornerstone of safety and continual improvement. We want our employees to know that when they speak up, they can be sure someone is listening.”
Union leadership among Aviation Safety groups were part of the process in crafting the architecture of the new reporting program “to encourage the sharing of safety information by all parties,” according to the FAA statement. For example, Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), said, “The more we can continue to encourage people to report, the more we can influence the safety in the system.”
The program addresses the flip-side risk of spurious whistleblowers and has follow-up procedures in place. Mike Perrone, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) union, explained that an Event Review Team, consisting of experts in the subject matter of the complaint, will “evaluate the safety issue and provide a recommendation on corrective action and will continue to monitor the issue throughout the process.”