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FAA Makes Changes to Improve Information Gathering

In an effort to encourage air traffic controllers and employees in charge of maintaining radar installations and other airport systems to speak up when mistakes occur, the Federal Aviation Administration has made several changes. The FAA says it will reduce aviation accidents and make air travel safer for everyone by expanding a non-punitive reporting system currently in place only for air traffic controllers. By focusing on gathering the information, and not on punishing an employee for making a mistake, the FAA says it will generate more information and be in a better position to discover dangers before they impact passengers and crew.

As part of the new system, the FAA has also changed some terminology. What was once referred to as an operational error will now be classified as an operational incident. The change is meant to avoid the negative connotations of having an "error" on your record. Safety officials believe this will cause a short term increase in the total number of incidents reported, while actually reducing the risk of flying.

After installing a non-punitive system for air traffic controllers, the FAA estimates that it has gathered roughly 10 times more data than under the old system. That data has been used to discover the most important safety concerns affecting the aviation industry and to focus on improving their record in those areas. The FAA is hopeful that a similar system applied to radar technicians and others in the field will help eliminate mistakes that might otherwise have gone unnoticed until an accident occurred.

While the system does rely on the good intentions of air traffic controllers and technicians, the FAA says there are systems in place to hold employees accountable when appropriate. If an incident rose beyond the level of a mistake, for example, if an intentional act placed people in danger, a safety panel would be able to call for an investigation or take direct action to correct the situation.

Source: CNN, "FAA says new 'safety culture' will stress solutions, not blame," by Mike M. Ahlers, 14 March 2012

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