One of the stressful things that can happen to you as a pilot is when an air traffic controller tells you to call a facility on the telephone after you land. A tower controller issued me a phone number once, and I have to admit the request made my heart skip a beat. Fortunately, I hadn’t done anything wrong. The controller simply had some questions about the airplane I was flying.
Most of the time, if a controller gives you a phone number, it’s not good news. Generally it means you’ve made a serious error and there is a chance that you will suffer some punitive consequences as a result of that mistake. The magic words that should raise the hairs on the back of your neck are “possible pilot deviation.”
It goes without saying that you should remain vigilant as you fly around the national airspace system. You need to know the rules and remain within the confines of the rules. But there may be times when you make an honest mistake. And if you do, you’re more likely to get caught today than you were five years ago.
Unfortunately, the possibility that you will at some point make a mistake is far from remote, but there are ways to protect yourself from repercussions from those errors, as long as they’re not gross breaches of regulations. But the window of opportunity is limited. More on that later.
Since 2008, there have been big changes in the procedures of ATC reporting of incidents, such as loss of separation of airplanes. The object of the new reporting programs, according to the FAA, is to “capture data to analyze in order to get to the root cause of problems before accidents or incidents occur.” The FAA also says “the emphasis is on safety, not punishment.”
The FAA is doing a good thing by gathering as much data as possible in the interest of increasing safety. But as a pilot you need to be aware that your N-number may have been entered into several reports recently and may be reported more frequently in the future. And some changes in the way ATC is reporting deviations could make you more likely to find out about a pilot deviation later.
A new program, termed the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP), was introduced in 2008. The program is similar to the Aviation Safety Action Programs (ASAP), established by the FAA for air carriers, and the NASA ASRS (Aviation Safety Reporting System) program, implemented in 1976, in which pilots are encouraged to report incidents voluntarily and anonymously. But even though your N-number might be included in an ATSAP report, you should not worry because the reports are sent to a third party, said a NATCA representative who wished to remain anonymous. The only reports that are passed on to the FAA are reports that, after analysis and possible further investigation, result in changes within the system. And details from the ATSAP reports, such as N-numbers, are apparently not passed on to the FAA.
More on MOR
The reports you should possibly be concerned about are new mandatory reports and reports that are electronically generated.
An FAA document with the subject “Air Traffic Organization Occurrence Reporting,” which went into effect on Jan. 30, outlines procedures for what have been termed mandatory occurrence reports (MORs). MORs are reports that controllers are required to file as a result of what the FAA calls an “occurrence.” Examples of occurrences that controllers must report include loss of separation with terrain, or with another airplane, whether in the air or on the ground, loss of communication, landing without a proper clearance or entering unauthorized airspace.
As far as pilot deviations are concerned, these types of controller reports are not new. According to the FAA and several controllers I spoke with, they simply got a new name. These are the types of reports that would result in the controller stating “N12345, possible pilot deviation, advise you to contact SoCal Approach at 123-456-7890.”
While the FAA insists there have been no changes to how pilots are being reported, there are some indications that new reporting procedures could lead to an increase in pilot deviations. One new reporting system that could definitely wreak some havoc is the Traffic Analysis Review Program (TARP), which is in its final phases of being implemented. TARP is a type of software that automatically reports loss of separation occurrences within the terminal environment. Full implementation may be complete by the time you read this, and the software appears to have already caused some pilots headaches.