By: Scott “Gripper” Brenton, NUAIR Chief of Safety
At NUAIR, we believe that safety is not only a core competency, but we also consider it to be a competitive advantage to our operations. Our team of professional aviators and support staff work hard to establish and maintain a safety culture that meets or exceeds industry and FAA standards.
As part of that continuing mission, we believe it is important to get the word out about some exciting changes that many UAS operators may not be aware of yet:
NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) now has a category for Unmanned Aircraft!
For those who may not be familiar, NASA established the ASRS in 1976 to address the lack of a consolidated reporting and data-collection system regarding aviation incidents and accidents. In that year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) established ASRS to collect, analyze, and respond to voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident reports to lessen the likelihood of aviation accidents.
ASRS receives, processes, and analyzes voluntarily submitted incident reports from pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, cabin crew, maintenance technicians, and others. Reports, which may be submitted online via NASA’s website, may describe both unsafe occurrences and hazardous situations. Information is gathered from these reports and disseminated in various ways to all stakeholders.
A key aspect of the ASRS is that it is voluntary, confidential, and non-punitive.
The goals of NASA’s ASRS are to:
- Identify deficiencies and discrepancies in the National Airspace System, with the objective of improving the current aviation system.
- Provide data for planning and improvements to the future National Airspace System, with objectives to enhance the basis for human factors research and provide recommendations for future aviation procedures, operations, facilities, and equipment.
The ASRS program has been a noteworthy success story over the decades and has arguably led to a decrease in the number of incidents and accidents as well as an increase in the overall safety of the National Airspace System (NAS) as a whole. From the first days of the program, it averaged approximately 400 reports per month. In recent years, report intake has grown at an enormous rate now averaging over 2,248 reports per week and more than 8,990 reports per month. The ASRS database now contains over 1.7 million reports.
As time marched on, a particular challenge began to arise around 2010, as the unmanned aircraft industry began to surge with the proliferation of small, moderately sized, and large category unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Not only was the FAA challenged with new UAS concepts regarding rules and policies, but the existing ASRS program had been designed solely around manned aviation reporting. A UAS operator wanting to make a voluntary report via ASRS would logon and become almost immediately frustrated with the system because existing categories and fields either didn’t apply or didn’t have an equivalent field for flying unmanned aircraft.
In an effort to address these shortcomings, a group from the Unmanned Aviation Safety Team (UAST), an organization that NUAIR continually collaborates with, took the initiative to lobby NASA, conduct research, and ultimately provide a proposal for modifications that would allow the UAS community to better participate in such an important safety program. As a result, UAS safety reports can now be submitted online.
As you can see, anyone from a recreational UAS operator, to a Part 107, Part 135, or even Public Operator can file a report. Researchers can also access the ASRS database and filter decades of voluntarily reported data that otherwise may not have been reported under an alternative, potentially punitive investigative process.
The intrinsic benefits of this voluntary system have resulted in a treasure-trove of data. Operators can benefit from historical research to simply gather lessons-learned, or in my world, they can work to enhance their internal Safety Management Systems (SMS) by gathering recent data on trends, equipment, policies, and other operational considerations.
Screenshots of the NASA ASRS UAS Form
The ASRS process begins with an internal review and analysis of all reports which are then categorized, screened, and reviewed for any immediate or critical impact within the NAS. Critical reports may generate a nationwide “alert message” whereby safety information is immediately issued to organizations in positions of authority (such as the FAA, DOT, NTSB, etc.) for evaluation and possible corrective actions. If deemed less-than-critical, information is still distributed by category for action which could include a quick response, publication to the ASRS database, publication in the award-winning, monthly newsletter Callback, or used to generate new focused studies within research organizations.
As you can imagine, the ASRS model has been replicated internationally in the broader aviation community. The International Confidential Aviation Safety Systems (ICASS) Group promotes confidential reporting systems as an effective method of enhancing flight safety in commercial air transport and general aviation operations.
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has revised Annex 13 – Accident Prevention and created Annex 19, Chapter 5, which addresses member states establishing a voluntary incident reporting system. This international support enhances the overall efforts to ensure aviation safety for both manned and unmanned flight are held to the highest standards.
Here at NUAIR, we remain committed to upholding the highest professional standards regarding aviation and ground safety. We participate in the ASRS program and continue to lend our support to agencies such as the UAST, NASA, FAA, and others. We highly encourage you to participate as well.
You can help prevent a future UAS aviation incident or accident – use the ASRS and fly safe!
D. Scott Brenton
NUAIR Chief of Safety