Most major airlines have a maintenance ASAP — but far too many mechanics still hesitate to file reports of problems in the system, especially problems with maintenance manuals, engineering orders, task cards, and other maintenance documentation. Why is that?
Are mechanics not fully aware of the benefits of an Aviation Safety Action Program? It really is beyond dispute at this point that the greatest aviation safety gains will come from front-line workers reporting on problems they see from their unique vantage points. After all, management is likely not aware of many of the day-to-day issues mechanics face trying to do their jobs – until something unfortunate happens, like an accident or incident.
The overall safety of the system needs the information that only mechanics can give us — to improve system safety and perhaps prevent a catastrophic accident. (I have been told that some manufacturers are keenly reviewing data on manuals and other maintenance procedures with an eye toward correcting problems identified. Now therein lies a definite system-safety benefit potential.)
But in addition to improving safety, many ASAP reports also improve the efficiency of the system. And improving efficiency can save the airline money. There is at least some hope, that a more profitable airline will eventually benefit the airline employees — either by preserving jobs or maybe some day restoring some of the give-backs of the last decade.
Fear of disciplinary action
A more likely reason that mechanics fail to file ASAP reports may be that they are just not convinced that no company disciplinary or FAA enforcement action will follow? From the airline mechanics I have spoken to, it may be a little of both — not really understanding the safety benefits of the program and being unwilling to find out how nonpunitive the system really is. While I think employees just need to accept that they have information no one else has, I can understand their hesitation on the latter point. No one wants to admit an error — and end up losing their job or, worse, their license.
The problem is particularly tricky regarding paperwork signoffs — especially if the issue is whether a maintenance signoff was proper or not. While most errors would be treated nonpunitively under ASAP, there is always the possibility that improper paperwork signoff would fall within one of the exceptions for “immunity,” if some overzealous FAA inspector decided that the improper signoff somehow constituted falsification. So, I agree that mechanics need to be careful in reporting errors in signoffs.
But that does not mean that mechanics cannot report problems with incorrect or confusing manuals or other documentation. I would suggest that the types of errors that lead or can lead to improper signoffs be reported independently of any actual maintenance work performed. Or even better through a union rep or other employee representative. The important thing is to make sure the information of a potentially unsafe situation gets to the people that can make the necessary changes before a tragedy occurs.
John Goglia has 40+ years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB board member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.