ATSAP In Action

The facility where I work as an FAA air traffic controller recently began using the Air Trafic Safety Action Program (ATSAP) I blogged about here.

We all got “training” on the program and how it worked and how to file safety reports.

Within an hour of receiving my training I filed my first ATSAP report on the the interim altitude data block problem I detailed in the same blog entry noted above.

Here’s a summary of that issue:  in April my facility decided to start using an alternate method of coordinating altitudes on aircraft with adjacent center air traffic facilities via our computer system.  Unfortunately under certain circumstances this altitude information doesn’t successfully transfer to the next controller, so he may or may not know what altitude the aircraft has been given.  The real problem is that there is no indication one way or the other if the altitude was successfully transferred from one computer to the next controller’s computer.

This potentially means that the new controller doesn’t know what altitude the aircraft is assigned.

A week after I filed my report I got an email from the ATSAP Event Review Committee (ERC) asking if they could release the information in my report back to facility.  Apparently they thought it was an important enough issue to follow up on in short order.  Since I had already brought the issue to local management’s attention, I figured it was no big secret anyway so I agreed.

For a brief moment it seemed that they might actually discontinue the use of the interim altitudes between facilities.  But the person who had the authority to discontinue the procedure was the same manager who instituted it in the first place.  In other words by discontinuing the procedure he would implicitly admit it was a mistake in the first place.

But managers in the FAA don’t make mistakes (at least not that they’ll admit to).

So that meant we would continue to use the procedure, even if it doesn’t work sometimes.

But it’s fine, because the manager who decided to use the procedure has another procedure that ultimately transfers responsibility to the air traffic controllers so if something goes wrong it’s the controller’s fault.  That’s what FAA managers are really good at:  passing the buck.

So much for the safety culture the FAA talks about.

It just proves that ATSAP isn’t going to change the FAA and its approach towards safety issues.  The FAA has a long history of ignoring safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and they’ll do the same with the ATSAP ERC; they’ll be ignored too.

The ATSAP program is good for one thing:  it protects air traffic controllers who have operational errors from arbitrary treatment/punishment by their facilities if they file an ATSAP report about the error.

In the past if they liked someone and they had an error (a “deal” in air traffic lingo) it wasn’t that big a thing.  But if they didn’t like someone they used an error as an excuse to beat them around a bit as punishment.  ATSAP (at least according to the MOU signed between the air traffic controllers’ union, NATCA, and FAA management) prevents that from happening.

Outside of that though, ATSAP is another FAA red herring.

I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again.  Talk is cheap.

The FAA loves programs like ATSAP, because it makes it look like they’re really committed to safety issues.  Unfortunately they’ll ignore ATSAP just like they ignore the NTSB.  And safety will suffer because of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *