As part of a broad initiative begun five years ago to improve aviation’s “safety culture,” the FAA is encouraging air traffic controllers to report operational errors and mistakes without fear of punishment or reprisal. The change is leading to an increase in reported errors but, the agency says, a reduction in overall risk as well. The shift also means that the FAA is now more likely than ever to crack down on pilots who make mistakes.
The program is an extension of the Aviation Safety and Reporting System that has been available to pilots for years and Mandatory Occurrence Reporting, which was revamped by the FAA in January. To reduce the stigma attached to on-the-job mistakes by controllers, “operational errors” – for example, when a controller allows two airplanes to fly too closely – will now be known as “operational incidents.” In addition to encouraging reporting, the FAA has centralized the analysis of potential errors and changed how managers’ bonuses are computed, so that pay is no longer tied to reducing error totals, according to a report by Bloomberg News.
The FAA began the safety initiative in 2008 and has been expanding it ever since. The latest expansion includes the technicians who maintain radar installations and other equipment. While the change will most likely lead to safer skies in the long run, pilots need to be aware that serious errors they make that might have gone unreported in the past will almost certainly be reported now, possibly leading to certificate action.