Monday, March 1, 2004
The NASA Report: Looking For Absolution
Should you make a mistake, filling out some simple paperwork might just save your bacon
|Before you ask, yes, I’ve filled out my share. Like most reasonably conscientious pilots who try to play by the rules, I don’t go around deliberately violating FARs, but on those rare occasions when I think I might have clipped a corner of a Class B, busted an IFR altitude or come closer than I like to another airplane (no matter who was at fault), I whip out a NASA report and send it in.|
Before you ask, yes, I’ve filled out my share. Like most reasonably conscientious pilots who try to play by the rules, I don’t go around deliberately violating FARs, but on those rare occasions when I think I might have clipped a corner of a Class B, busted an IFR altitude or come closer than I like to another airplane (no matter who was at fault), I whip out a NASA report and send it in.
Fortunately, I’ve apparently been a good boy, for the most part. I’ve only been asked to “Call this number when you get on the ground” three times in 38 years of flying. In all three cases, my sins were relatively minor and the controllers were good guys who merely wanted to point out the error of my ways without filling out any paperwork.
Still, my imagined transgressions exceed the real ones by a major factor. I know dozens of pilots—airline, charter, corporate, ferry—who fly to live, and most carry a sheaf of NASA reports in their flight bags and send them in at the slightest possibility of an infraction. Considering the potential consequences, let’s hope pilots are more conscientious than drivers, but police agencies suggest most drivers commit well over 300 infractions for every ticket they’re issued.
If you ask, “What’s a NASA report?”, you may be such an outstanding pilot that you’ll never need to know. Unfortunately, that’s not likely if you fly quite a bit, especially in IFR conditions or around busy terminal airspace. I have several friends in the FAA, all good guys, who suggest they could probably find some violation for virtually every pilot on every flight. My FAA buddies acknowledge the FARs are so complex, clumsy and often indecipherable that it’s hard not to violate one or more of them every now and then.
Prior to implementation of the NASA report, there was essentially no vehicle for fixing parts of the system that might be broken. Users were sometimes reluctant to bring errors and inconsistencies to the government’s attention for fear they might be accused of violating a reg.
As a result, back in 1976, the government decided to appoint an agency independent from the FAA to administer a program that would allow pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and anyone else to report airspace, airworthiness and other regulatory problems with impunity. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was assigned the task because of its expertise in all things aviation.
NASA, in turn, created the Aviation Safety Reporting System (inevitably, ASRS), a program designed to analyze and correct problems while guaranteeing anonymity. The resulting report form, ARC-277B, is intended to offer pilots limited immunity from penalties or certificate suspensions in a broad range of circumstances. Specifically, the pilot is protected if: 1. The violation was inadvertent and not intentional (in other words, dumb mistakes do qualify); 2. The violation did not involve a criminal offense, accident or action that disclosed a lack of qualification or competency; 3. The pilot had not been found responsible for a previous violation within the past five years; and 4. The pilot can prove that a NASA report was filed within 10 days of the incident in question.
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