In the aviation industry, we’re always working to do things better, faster, and cheaper. That being said, we’re very aware that we work in an industry where just ONE single event is catastrophic, so safety is always critically important! But… do we always have all the information we need to make good decisions?
We have safety programs for almost every department in an airline. Here’s just a few: 
  • Maintenance,
  • Flight Ops,
  • Inflight,
  • Dispatch,
  • etc…

But do all these programs make sense? Is all this data we are gathering valuable? And if so, why do we keep creating new programs to capture even more data?

To keep things simple, lets keep the scope of this discussion in my wheelhouse: aircraft maintenance.
Just in aircraft maintenance, US airlines have a number of safety programs:
  • ASAP (Aviation Safety Action Program),
  • Voluntary Disclosures,
  • Internal Company Safety Hotlines,
  • ASRS (NASA Reporting System),h
  • the FAA’s ASIAS (Information Analysis and Sharing System),
PLUS all of the FAA internal oversight tools, such as:
  • the Program Tracking and Reporting System (PTRS),
  • Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS),
  • the newly created Safety Assurance System (SAS), and
  • the Safety Management Systems (which, incidentally, will be a regulatory requirement for all 121, 135 and 145 operators in just a few short years!)
That’s a painful paragraph of acronyms, right? Here’s the rub:

It’s just a PARTIAL list!

There are many, many more programs… that list is just the well-known ones! With the huge quantity of data in these programs and the large amount of money and manpower we throw at compiling data for those programs, have we stopped to think — are we really getting the value for our time and effort? Have we gone so far down a path that we’ve lost sigh of the goal? Do we need to seriously re-evaluate what we’re doing with all this data?

It sure seems like we’ve come to a point in aviation where the culture between the FAA and the airlines HAS to change.

As airline people, we practically kill ourselves trying to both ensure passenger safety and collect data we can use to report back to the FAA.

At the same time, the FAA essentially duplicates the work of gathering data for their reporting systems, which they turn around and present back to the airlines. And, of course, when both groups actually get together and compare those data sets, often we show different things as the root problem.
But, you might ask, how can that be if we’re talking about the same operation?
It’s a great question.
Airlines gather data about their entire operation on an ongoing basis, yet the FAA only captures snapshots of data — moments in time — which don’t always produce a clear picture of any problem areas. Plus, the more systems involved and number of hands that touch the data inevitably lead to data integrity issues.

So taking the leap and sharing the data is really the next step in addressing the human factors issues, which are always the root cause and literally the “final frontier” in aviation safety. Both the airlines and the FAA have their concerns about this, but we really need to combine the data!
Maybe the FAA should step up first and get rid of that scary civil penalty we live under. Then, we could watch the slow evolution of airlines moving further into information sharing.
While people will be cautious at first, if the FAA takes the first step we really could move into a new world of information sharing. Then, we could truly use the data in the most efficient way possible to accomplish the end goal we all care about: safe airline travel.