Aircraft maintenance errors, FAR violations and using the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS)


Mechanics working on an aircraft engine.
Mechanics working on an aircraft engine.
Michael Spinks

In order to fix a problem we must first know what the problem is. This is fundamental in troubleshooting a discrepancy on an aircraft system. The validity of that troubleshooting information relies on objective evidence. We then act on that information to make a repair that is both correct and effective.

This process is also an important element when trying to identify and fix problems regarding the safety of the aviation system such as violations or unsafe conditions that have the potential to lead to incidents or accidents.

How many times have you inherited a problem that was created up line from where you operate? A faulty process, bad paperwork or fallible decision made by someone far removed from the airplane that resulted in creating an error or violation made by the mechanic at the sharp end. These types of conditions we inherit are called “latent failures”.

Sometimes we create an “active failure” or “unsafe act” that is no ones fault but our own. These are recognized conditions in Human Factors in aircraft maintenance. Most times these are simply honest mistakes. In our business we cannot afford to make errors or violate procedures, even if unintentional.

But how do you report these issues and why would anyone want to? Many times the information we posses relating to a mistake, FAR violation or unsafe condition that could lead to an incident or accident is the very same information that could get us into hot water with the FAA or the company we work for if we are involved. Information that could potentially result in our license being suspended, time off or even terminated as the penalty for that mistake.

As airmen who are responsible for the lives of others, we have to own up to these mistakes before something catastrophic happens. Your first priority is to get the situation corrected as soon as it’s discovered then do the following:

Don’t panic! There is a process that can help you if you find yourself in this position.

That process is the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). The ASRS collects, analyzes, and responds to voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident reports in order to lessen the likelihood of aviation accidents. This program is described in Advisory Circular 00-46D. It is also covered in FAR 91.25. The purpose of the program is to identify safety problems in the aviation system so that improvements can be made.

If you have unintentionally violated the FARs which results in an unsafe condition, file a confidential Aviation Safety Report Form. You will have immunity from FAA enforcement actions if you do.

To understand how to protect yourself from enforcement actions or for additional information regarding the ASRS program from an aviation attorney click here and here.

Filing an ASRS form is right thing to do and if necessary will protect you. When in doubt, fill it out!

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While I strongly agree with your column and the theory behind ASRS, I believe there currently exists a massive failing in that system as it stands today. True, potential "whistle blowers" may be immune from FAA actions but absolutely nothing protects them from retaliation from co-workers, supervisors, their company or unions if they choose to self identify.

The problem, as I see it, is a lack of authority. While the program’s intentions are commendable, it has no teeth! The idea needs to be tailored more towards the military programs which have specific guidelines AND PENALTIES for non-compliance (retaliation and retribution). This is a program under used and long overdue! We need to invest in its modification for the good of all concerned. I’d hate to see the baby thrown out with the bath water…