Hanging around the airport, you may hear pilots talk about NASA reports. But what the heck is a NASA report?
It’s a report made to the Aviation Safety Reporting System, which is administered by NASA, after an incident.
Pilots file reports for a variety of reasons, from mistakenly entering Class B airspace to cutting someone off in the pattern to a near miss with a drone.
NASA reports are sometimes referred to as “Get Out of Jail Free” cards, but are they really?
Here’s 10 things all pilots should know about ASRS Reports.
1. A fatal airliner crash started it all.
On Dec. 1, 1974, TWA Flight 514 destined for Washington, D.C., hit Mount Weather near Berryville, Virginia, killing all 92 people aboard. The NTSB investigation revealed that the flight crew misunderstood an ATC clearance. Just six weeks before the TWA crash, a United Airlines crew had experienced an identical ATC misunderstanding and narrowly missed the same mountain.
Although the information was shared with the FAA, there was no way for the United pilot to share his experience with other pilots. This solidified the idea that a national aviation reporting program that could collect and share safety information was needed. The Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) was implemented in April 1976.
2. The system has one overriding goal: Improve safety.
The mission of the Aviation Safety Reporting System is to “identify deficiencies and discrepancies in the National Airspace System” with one objective: “To improve the current aviation system.”
Data collected from the system is used for planning improvements to the National Airspace System, including recommendations for aviation procedures, operations, facilities, and equipment.
3. Why NASA?
NASA was chosen to collect and disseminate the information as an independent, third party, ensuring anonymity for those who file reports.
Because it has no regulatory or enforcement role, the aviation community does not need to fear repercussions from filing a report, officials note.
4. It’s not just pilots who file NASA reports.
Air traffic controllers, dispatchers, maintenance technicians, ground personnel, and any one else involved in aviation operations can also file reports.
5. Is it really a get out of jail free card?
Yes and no.
On the yes side, when a pilot files a NASA report “involving a violation of 49 U.S.C. subtitle VII or the 14 CFR” FAA officials consider it “to be indicative of a constructive attitude.”
“Such an attitude will tend to prevent future violations,” officials noted.
So, even if punitive action could be taken, it won’t if certain conditions are met:
- The violation was inadvertent and not deliberate; and
- The person hasn’t had any other FAA enforcement actions in the last five years.
But you can’t file a NASA report for a violation that involved a criminal offense, accident, or action that discloses a lack of qualification or competency. That’s where this isn’t a get out of jail free card.
6. You have just 10 days to file a report.
To ensure that no punitive action will be taken, you must file the report with NASA within 10 days of the violation or 10 days from the date when you became aware of — or should have been aware of — the violation.
7. When you file that report, you’re not alone.
Since January 1981, 1.5 million NASA reports have been filed. According to the latest figures available, 94,302 reports were filed in 2017.
The system averages about 7,858 reports a month, which comes out to about 377 reports every working day.
8. GA pilots vs. airline pilots
While airline-related reports make up the bulk of NASA reports, general aviation reports typically account for between 20% to 30% of reports. That number has been steadily increasing since 2010.
9. What happens once you file the report?
You can submit reports electronically at ASRS.arc.NASA.gov or via mail by downloading a form at the web address and mailing it in.
As soon as the reports are received, they are time stamped to ensure that 10-day window.
Within three days, each report is analyzed by two ASRS analysts. They decide what category the reports fall in and whether a report requires immediate action. For instance a report about a hazardous condition at an airport would spark an Alert Message so the issue could be addressed as quickly as possible.
You may get a call from an analyst to clarify the information you submitted. Any information collected during that call is added to your report.
Once the analyst is completed with the report, it is uploaded to the ASRS database online, with most identifying information redacted. While some reports will identify the exact model of aircraft involved in the incident, most do not, instead referring to the aircraft as a high-wing or low-wing aircraft for GA reports. Similarly, airport identifiers are also usually scrubbed from reports to ensure the reporter’s anonymity.
Additionally, original reports, both physical and electronic data, are destroyed to completely ensure confidentiality, officials note.
10. What does NASA do with all that information?
Reports sent to ASRS are widely regarded as one of the world’s largest sources of information on aviation safety and human factors.
ASRS uses the information it receives to promote aviation safety a number of ways, such as Alert Messages, search requests, a monthly newsletter, focused studies, and more. For example, a focused study on encounters with Wake Vortex is currently underway.
The database is easily searchable, with more than 7,543 search requests fulfilled since the system’s inception.
General Aviation News’ editor Janice Wood searches the database every month for the ASRS Reports we run in the print magazine, while Human Factors columnist Jeffrey Madison also does a monthly search to mine information for his column.
Human factors researchers conducting studies also search the database to compile information.
And officials in the aviation industry, whether it is in air traffic control, at a manufacturer, or at an airport, often act on that information.
For example, an Alert Message sent to Salt Lake International Airport officials led them to review the airport’s maps and documents. They discovered that some of the airport’s documents did not reflect an island between Taxiways Y and H and H-3.
“We have updated all our documents and sent those updates to the FAA and our usual charting organizations,” airport officials reported to ASRS officials.
In another instance, a NASA report led to Cessna reviewing a nose gear steering cable anomaly to determine if further inspections were needed.
Top subjects for Alert Messages from 2008 to 2017 involved aircraft systems, airports facility status, ATC procedures, airport lighting and approach aids, ATC equipment, ATC operations, hazards to flight, navigation, avionics, and powerplants.
Look for excerpts from ASRS Reports in the second print issue of General Aviation News each month, along with Jeffrey Madison’s Human Factors column.