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You Made a Mistake on Your Flight. Should You File a NASA Report?

Have you ever made a mistake on a flight? As a pilot, NASA ASRS Reports are one of your best legal safety nets. Here's how to use them.

Swayne Martin

But First, What Is NASA ASRS, And Why Does It Exist?

Beginning in WWII, the aviation industry and military began to recognize the importance of voluntary safety reporting to prevent future incidents and accidents. After several reporting systems failed to succeed in the decades after WWII, the FAA recognized that an objective, third-party needed to be involved.

The FAA asked NASA, an independent organization without regulatory or enforcement authority, to act as the third-party in the program. The FAA also asked NASA to design a modified incident reporting program and to take over responsibility for the receipt, processing, analysis, and de-identification of aviation incident reports.

NASA accepted the FAA's proposal, and the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) began operations on April 15, 1976. As it stands today, the NASA ASRS program has been a huge success, receiving over 1.5 million reports.

nasa.gov

So who can use NASA ASRS reports? According to the program, "the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) receives, processes and analyzes voluntarily submitted incident reports from pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, cabin crew, maintenance technicians, and others. Reports submitted to ASRS may describe both unsafe occurrences and hazardous situations."

You Can Gain Valuable Immunity For Participating

Let's say you're on a flight, and you inadvertently violate an FAA regulation. If you file a NASA report (which you can do at: https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/ ), you could gain valuable immunity by participating in the program.

If the FAA finds that you've violated a regulation, neither a civil penalty nor certificate suspension will be imposed on you, as long as:

  • The violation reported must have been inadvertent, not deliberate.
  • The violation must not have involved a crime, accident, or lack of qualification or competency on the part of the reporter.
  • Evidence of having filed an ASRS report within 10 days of the event's occurrence (your receipt) must be presented
  • Immunity from action under the ASRS cannot have been used in the last five years.

But the ASRS reports aren't just limited to you busting a regulation. They can be safety related too. For example, if there's a confusing intersection at an airport, or you accepted an ATC clearance that got you close to other traffic, those can (and should) be reported too. The goal of the ASRS program is to improve aviation safety as a whole. The more events you report, the more improvements can be made.

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While you can file as many NASA ASRS reports as you want (and you should), only 1 report every 5 years can protect you from FAA findings of violation in terms of penalties or certificate actions.

Administrative Actions Are Still Recorded

There is one catch to your immunity. If the FAA pursues administrative action against you for violating a regulation, NASA ASRS protections won't prevent the violation from appearing on your record. You won't receive any penalties or certificate suspensions, but the administrative action will become part of your permanent FAA file/record.

Why Are People Filing NASA ASRS Reports?

You can file reports for almost anything, and they don't have to be just about violating regulations. In fact, there's an average of 377 reports filed EVERY DAY! Just seeing something unsafe around an airport or in the sky is reason enough for filing a NASA ASRS Report.

Here are some ASRS reports we've written about in the past:

What Happens When You Submit A Report?

After the report is received (either by mail or electronically), two ASRS Analysts "screen" each report within 3 working days to provide initial categorization and to determine the triage of processing. If the report details a significant, ongoing hazard, ASRS Analysts may issue an Alert Message. De-identified information is provided to organizations in positions of authority for further evaluation and potential corrective actions. For instance, if there's a problem with an instrument approach procedure, an Alert Message may be issued to the FAA for corrective action not relating to the pilot involved.

Most reports are further analyzed and added to a public database of NASA ASRS Reports, which you can access here. An ASRS Analyst may choose to call a reporter on the telephone to clarify any information the reporter provided. This information is added to the analysis and final record. To ensure confidentiality, all identifying data is removed. After analysis, the Identification (ID) Strip, the top portion of the report, is returned to the reporter. This ID Strip acts as the reporter's proof of submittal. Finally, original reports, both physical and electronic data, are destroyed to completely ensure confidentiality.

Check out the NASA ASRS Program Briefing to learn more about how each step of the process works.

nasa.gov

What About "ASAP" Reports?

Aviation Safety Action Programs (ASAP) are usually run by individual airlines or air carrier certificate holders. ASAP Programs provide a confidential, internal safety reporting service to employees, but work a little differently than NASA ASRS reports. Like ASRS, there are enforcement-related incentives and immunities for those who disclose violations of Federal Air Regulations.

When you submit a report into ASAP, you'll begin working with an event review committee to determine the root cause of the event with your input. The goal is for the company to improve safety of operations by making corrective actions resulting from reports. According to the Air Safety Charter Foundation, "should the FAA learn about your event outside of ASAP, and your report has been accepted into ASAP, you are only obligated to participate in any corrective action that results. There is no FAA administrative action for reports accepted into ASAP." The ASAP database cannot be accessed through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and is not reportable under PRIA.

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Have you ever filed a NASA ASRS Report? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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