Monday, March 1, 2004
Learning From Mistakes
The ASRS collects pilots’ admitted blunders so that others can gain knowledge from them
One of the best things that the FAA ever did to promote aviation safety was to provide immunity from FAR violations prosecution for pilots who voluntarily report problems and incidents to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) before the FAA gets wind of what went on. During most months, NASA’s ASRS receives about 2,000 to 3,000 reports from pilots, controllers and mechanics. Quite a bit of the information works its way into studies of various safety issues. A downloadable reporting form can be at http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov.
ASRS reports are treated confidentially. After a report has been logged in, the section of the form containing the submitter’s name, address and other identifying information is removed and returned to the submitter as proof of submission in case the FAA asks for it.
ASRS reports often tell of life-threatening situations with happy endings, very much unlike typical NTSB accident-investigation files. For example, ASRS recently released a number of reports sent in by pilots who inadvertently flew into instrument meteorological conditions.
The pilot of a single-engine Piper Cherokee flew in marginal VFR conditions when the ceiling suddenly dropped. The pilot reported that he “flew into an area of lower clouds. I did a 180-degree turn and got out of it.” He then used the “nearest airport” function on his GPS receiver. He turned to fly toward the airport, but “faced a steep hill with the clouds almost touching it. I went over the hill and into the clouds and realized I didn’t know what would be below me if I descended.” Fortunately, the pilot broke out between layers and flew parallel to a ridge line with more clouds below. He eventually got to the airport, descended below the reported ceiling and landed. ASRS summed up the report by commenting that the pilot “used up all the options, but one—luck.”
In another report to ASRS, the pilot of a Cessna 172 told about a flight during which the weather became worse than was forecasted “at an alarming rate.” He had to descend to maintain VFR, but, then, wound up having to climb up to 5,000 feet. When he turned the aircraft around, he found that the area behind him had also closed up. With assistance from air traffic control, which dedicated a radio frequency to handling only his airplane, he set up for an approach, descended through the clouds, broke out at 1,400 feet and landed.
Unfortunately, another pilot of a Cessna U206G, who flew into adverse weather conditions, was not one of those who was able to submit a voluntary report to ASRS. The NTSB recently finished investigating his weather-related accident.
On March 8, 2001, at 2:20 p.m., that single-engine Cessna U206G, registered to a Canadian aviation company and flown by a Canadian-certificated airline transport pilot, was destroyed when it hit trees and terrain five nautical miles east/northeast of Mica, Wash. The pilot, who was the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and a VFR flight plan had been filed and activated. The personal flight originated from the Renton Municipal Airport, Renton, Wash., at approximately 11:07 on the morning of the accident. Radio contact was lost with the aircraft at 2:20 and a search was initiated. The wreckage was located two days after the accident.
According to personnel at an FBO located at Renton Municipal Airport, the fueler arrived at the FBO earlier than the usual opening time of 7:30 to service an outgoing medivac flight. Upon his arrival at the FBO, he encountered the pilot of the accident airplane, who reported that he had been there since 3:00 a.m. The fueler allowed the pilot to sleep on the FBO’s couch and reported that the aircraft departed around 11:15.
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