Extension of NTSB Info-Sharing Policy Should Enhance Aviation Safety

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December 11, 2012

Aviation experts have long asserted that all sectors of the aviation industry must work together in the ongoing effort to improve airline safety and reduce plane crashes or other air incidents that put passengers at risk. Federal regulators, as well as airline carriers, repair station employees , and traffic control , all have exclusive areas of insight that can lead to safer operations.

A recent announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is based on the benefits of sharing more information about mishaps and perceived risks. The FAA, along with air carriers, repair stations and industry unions have all agreed to expand disclosures to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in order to help the agency spot risk factors that can lead to airline fatalities. According to the FAA, data shared through the previously launched Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) initiative "will help the NTSB determine if an accident is a unique event or an indication of systemic risks."

Previous disclosures under the ASIAS initiative have led to important changes, including:

  • Amendments to standards for runway taxi practices have reduced runway incursions and the risk of collisions between jets on the ground.
  • Proactive training and fatigue management have reduced mistakes by air traffic controllers such as runway assignment errors.
  • Using information about safety threats to encourage airlines to implement corrective procedures.

ASIAS currently receives data based on 95 percent of all commercial aviation operations. The FAA credits ASIAS as a crowning achievement in a ten-year period that saw significant reductions in commercial aviation fatality risks.

The data collected under the ASIAS system includes everything from basic data entered by flight crews and maintenance employees from 44 member airlines to quality assurance programs for flight operations. "I am grateful to the FAA, industry and labor for their leadership,'' NTSB chair Deborah Hersman said in a press release. "Better information leads to better investigations."

The FAA will continue to increase the database access for ASIAS by encouraging participation by regional air carriers and expanding the program to general aviation, helicopter operators, military manufacturers and other government agencies. That level of access can result in significant safety benefits for air travelers as ASIAS becomes more adept at predicting risk factors that can be minimized by new regulations.

As accustomed as Americans are to hearing about the NTSB's arrival at airline crash sites to investigate and collect data, the agency's ability to channel information is every bit as important when it prevents air tragedies in the first place. In a similar way, the information gleaned by aviation injury lawyers from plane crash litigation can lead to safety developments and innovations as well as justice and accountability for injury victims.