July 23 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. Federal Aviation Administration program created for early detection of safety problems has been used by some air-traffic controllers to escape punishment for sleeping on duty, a report said.
Controllers have been allowed to report poor personal conduct rather than the kind of performance problems the program was intended to find, the Transportation Department inspector general’s office said today.
“The intent of the reporting program is to improve aviation safety, not to provide amnesty to controllers who like to watch movies or take a nap while on the job,” said Representative John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The FAA program, known as Air Traffic Safety Action, was modeled on successful programs at airlines. It was intended to discover potential systemic safety risks before they become serious. The FAA encouraged reporting of performance lapses by preventing controllers from being punished as retribution for making reports.
The program shows promise as a tool to promote increased safety reporting, the inspector general said.
In a small number of the 41,000 reports filed through December, the FAA allowed employees to report falling asleep, viewing a personal video player while at their positions and refusing to take handoffs of responsibility for flights in a timely manner, making them immune from disciplinary action, the inspector general said.
“Accepting reports of this nature may lead to the incorrect perception that ATSAP is an amnesty program where reports are automatically accepted,” according to the report.
More than 60 percent of the 21,462 U.S. air traffic control employees who are eligible to make reports have submitted at least one to the program, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a statement today.
“The bottom line is that since the beginning of implementation in 2008, no other safety program has identified and fixed more local and systemic problems,” Steve Hansen, chairman of the labor union’s safety committee, said in a statement that didn’t address the criticisms about misuse of the program.
At least five FAA air traffic controllers were reported to be sleeping on the job last year. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pledged to fire three air traffic controllers caught sleeping in Seattle, Miami and Knoxville.
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