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NASA Group Collects Thousands of Air Safety Reports With AM-6 Miles Up and Sleepy I, Bjt

September 11, 1988

Undated (AP) _ Concern shimmered in the words of the pilot, who was writing after spending 30 of the last 48 hours on duty, flying his commuter plane in and out of Detroit.

″I found myself continuously asking the first officer if I had performed certain duties or functions because I just couldn’t remember,″ he wrote. ″You have an accident waiting to happen.″

The pilot’s warning was among hundreds of reports detailing pilot fatigue received by a little-known organization that monitors safety in the nation’s sky.

The Air Safety Research System, established by the Federal Aviation Administration and run by NASA, has collected 95,000 written reports over 12 years, ranging from admissions of missed paperwork to confessions of near misses.

The montage of mistakes, gripes and pointers has become an essential tipster’s sheet to problems in the air traffic system. The information comes voluntarily from pilots who are guaranteed anonymity and limited immunity for the mistakes they describe.

″Our basic function is to provide a place to which people in the aviation system can report in confidence, without fear of reprisal,″ said Bill Reynard, the head of the program.

The FAA began the system in 1975 but got little response because it offered only limited confidentiality.

Since NASA assumed administration of the system the next year, pilots who report errors have been promised limited immunity, although that has been extended in less than 2 percent of the cases.

The system goes to great lengths to protect pilots’ anonymity. The compiled reports mention no names or airlines; even the time of day is blocked out. The place, month and year where the incident took place are listed along with the weight class of the aircraft involved.

Yet the message comes through:

The pilot of a jumbo jet bound for Tokyo from Los Angeles confesses to flying 1,500 feet above his assigned altitude. ″We were lucky there were no other aircraft in our area,″ he wrote, noting his crew had flown 23 hours in three days. ″I have to attribute it to fatigue and/or jet lag.″

The pilot of a small jetliner reports he incorrectly decided to continue a botched approach to Los Angeles, landing too fast nearly halfway down the runway. ″My poor judgment was caused in major part by fatigue,″ he wrote.

Reynard believes the credibility of such reports. ″It’s very, very rare that somebody would make up something and then confess to it,″ he said.

The reports go to the ASRS office at Mountain View, Calif., for review by analysts with aviation backgrounds. They often call the pilots for additional information.

If something needs immediate attention, FAA officials are informed. Special study groups look into chronic problems such as multiple reports of planes landing or taxiing on the wrong runways.

The database is also tapped by investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board. Last year, for example, after a Northwest Airlines DC-9 crashed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the NTSB requested a computer search for any reports mentioning that airport.

The safety system provided The Associated Press with all files detailing instances of pilot fatigue collected since 1983. About 2 percent of all reports collected since then involve some mention of crew fatigue.

Reynard said analysts watch for the possiblity of false reports filed in the often hostile environment of airline union-management conflicts.

″We know when we’re being campaigned by someone trying to make a point,″ said Reynard. ″Even if they tried, our analysts are too experienced to let something fictitious get through.

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