I wrote about American’s inability to come to agreement with its pilots on continuing participation on the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) in October, and now we’ve seen this very sad problem spread to other carriers as well. The latest is US Airways, where the pilots have now decided to end participation in the program. I decided this time I wanted to dig in further and understand exactly why this keeps happening, and I don’t like what I see.
You might know the ASAP program as a way for pilots to report issues with the understanding that they won’t be penalized for the reports (unless it involves negligence or criminal acts). The idea is to try to improve safety by finding things that wouldn’t get reported otherwise for fear of retribution.
By all accounts, the program has been successful so far, but there has been growing concern about the immunity provisions. In the case of US Airways, this is a one-sided concern from the pilot point of view. A company spokesperson confirmed for me that US Airways is not looking to make any changes in the program.
The pilot’s union, USAPA, however, isn’t happy with existing provisions. I’ve received a copy of the USAPA President’s Message on the subject, and they say that the decision to end participation is “because we are at an impasse with the Company over the pilots’ ability to submit important safety reports without fear of discipline.”
I spoke with USAPA spokesperson James Ray who explained that while no pilot has been disciplined for anything revealed in an ASAP filing, “it would just be a matter of time.” According to Ray, the big “sticking point” is what happens when a pilot files a report and someone else files a contradictory report – a multiple source filing with different sides. In his words,
If I taxi into [Washington/National airport] this afternoon and accidentally hit a baggage cart with my wing-tip and file an ASAP, then I’m covered. Now, if a Baggage Handler files a report stating I was being reckless because I was taxiing too fast, they could use that against me.
So let me get this straight. Without ASAP, the pilots simply wouldn’t file a report, but the baggage handler still would. I have to assume the company could then have even more reason to use the information they’ve received to take action against the pilot, because now the pilot hasn’t offered up the information. But the real problem here is that everyone loses the benefit of all those single source filings under which the pilots admit they were protected anyway.
For the sake of further argument, let’s assume they have a valid beef here. That brings up another question. If they’ve been operating under these provisions for so many years (and this goes back a long time), then why wouldn’t they just continue to renew in small increments and pull out only if something bad actually happened? I put that question to Ray, and it seems clear that it all just comes down to pilot/management relations.
With the way this Management team operates, it would just be a matter of time until they would come down on a pilot for something involving an ASAP filing.
And in case it wasn’t clear:
We felt that pulling out of the program might create some leverage to eventually move the Company to our position.
So pulling out here is a political move that the union hopes will get the company to put immunity in multiple source incidents in writing. Management is saying that it’s happy with the program as it is, but now nobody should be happy.
Would management consider putting stronger immunity provisions in there for multiple source reports? Well, they won’t comment on that.
From a passenger perspective, I see a valuable safety tool that is no longer being used, and that bothers me. Yes, there’s a reporting program via NASA, but all sides acknowledge that this is very helpful program that everyone wants to continue. I really hate to see the status of a safety-improving program used as a bargaining tool. It’s just not right.
Any pilots out there want to chime in?