US Airways Pilots End ASAP Participation

Safety/Security, US Airways

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?

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11 comments on “US Airways Pilots End ASAP Participation

  1. Is it more than coincidence that two of the most irrational pilots unions out there (USAPA and APA) have pulled out of the program *and* are in major contract standoffs?

  2. CF – the story seems a real eyebrow raiser. Assuming that what you say gives a full picture of the issue, has the wider press not picked up on this ? Seems like a classic topic for a bit of union bashing tabloid journalism…

  3. Trent880 – The Delta pilots actually also ended their participation awhile ago, so it’s not just these two. That being said, I definitely understand what you’re saying.

    David – That’s a good point. You would think the union-bashers would have jumped all over this, but I haven’t seen much. There has been some good coverage from
    Flight Global, but the Wall Street Journal article was garbage.

  4. The simple answer is that the Pilots want ASAP to be a complete “get out of jail free card.” They can point to not a single instance, at ANY airline, where management has used information shared in an ASAP report to discipline a Pilot. Indeed, the program itself says this is prohibited, and for this reason alone an arbitrator would not consider such information in any grievance challenging such discipline.

    What the program does not prohibit is the use of information that management may have garnered from other than an ASAP report. If the Company already knew of the incident, the filing of the ASAP report does not protect the Pilot from the Company using that “non-sole source” information. Thus, the Pilots want the Company prohibited from using information it obtained outside the ASAP program to discipline a Pilot, provided the Pilot filed an ASAP report, hence the get out of jail free card. Even the FAA has refused this change as it applies to enforcement action.

    It is a shame that the Pilot unions have chosen to politicize this very effective safety program.

  5. USAPA is a joke. A union created out of spite because a bunch of whining pilots who agreed to binding arbitration decided not to, because they didn’t like how the arbitration came out.

    Unions kill companies

  6. Yo – To be fair, I’m told the process began under ALPA before USAPA came on property. I understand it’s still the same pilot group, but this isn’t entirely just USAPA. Of course, it’s unclear whether or not the outcome would have been the same under ALPA.

  7. I am a USAir pilot and from what little inside knowledge I posses this looks like a political decision.

    The American APA disagreement is quite a bit deeper, however. AMR wanted the right to make an entry in a pilot’s personal file labeling that pilot as “reckless.” Though these files were internal documents, in the event of a crash AMR would have no doubt leaked the information in an attempt to shift liability from the carrier to a “reckless” pilot.

    This was an obvious ploy on AMR’s part, as a pilot whom they felt was truly reckless would have been terminated. In fact, as reckless actions are specifically prohibited by Federal Aviation Regulations, no operator could legally field a pilot who had actually been found to be reckless.

    The APA was right to junk the ASAP program at American.

  8. Your information regarding APA and American is incorrect. Just as is the case at USAir, no “negative” entry can be made in an American Pilot’s personel file without following the procedures for discipline/discharge. In other words, the filing of an ASAP report could not lead to the notation in the Pilot’s file that you suggest was the case, Indeed, why would American even want to make such a notation? Werer there to be an accident in which this same pilot was involved, a notation that the pilot was “reckless” and American having taking no remedial action would only lead to greater liability from civil suits.

    Again, APA has chosen to politicize a very effective safety program, where no issues have ever existed. Maybe this satisfied those who saw “ghosts” in the program, but those same pilots likely were never filing ASAP reports in the first place.

  9. Under the old LOA no such personnel entry could be made. Going forward, however, it was one of the conditions that AMR stipulated would be necessary to extend the ASAP LOA.

    AMR does play games. I don’t buy tickets on their airline because of their poor operational environment.

  10. I don’t believe that is true. All public accounts indicate that AMR, like all the other airlines at which the pilot unions chose to walk away from the program, was willing to continue it as written. Unsupported statements such as “AMR does play games” with no factual basis do nothing to enhance this discussion.

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