By Susan K. Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Editor
My college French professor had a tough — well, brutal — approach to grading our French language compositions. She kept a copy of each marked-up weekly assignment and reviewed each new submission against the accumulating set. If you made a mistake she had corrected in a previous paper, or if the mistake involved a point of grammar or syntax previously covered in class, you lost a full letter grade for the error.
As you can imagine, this kind of bare-knuckled grading motivated students like me to be exquisitely careful with each assignment. I well remember the day when one of my bolder classmates asked our professor to explain the rationale for her method. Looking down with an expression I’d call disdainful surprise, she uttered something like, “Well! There are still so many mistakes you haven’t made for the first time yet. I can’t possibly allow you to repeat any!”
Lessons for a Longer Life
I have forgotten many of the things I heard in long-ago college classrooms, but clearly the tough grading scheme and its raison d’être have stuck with me. I’ve applied the “don’t repeat mistakes” idea to many aspects of my life since college. That includes GA flying. But I have expanded the idea to include making every effort not just to avoid repeating my own aviation mistakes, but also those of others. Given that aviation mistakes can do a lot more damage than spoiling an academic grade point average, I’ve always thought that treating it as a lifelong lesson could help ensure a longer life.
If you are inclined to adopt a similar philosophy — and I hope you will! — there are now many resources to help you learn from the aeronautical mistakes of others.
Commonly known to pilots and air traffic controllers as the “NASA Report,” the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) is a voluntary safety reporting program funded by the FAA and administered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is a way to report hazards and safety concerns. Even before the FAA Compliance Program began in its current form, ASRS also gave users a way to report mistakes without fear of punishment. Incidentally, the popular “NASA Report” moniker arises from the fact that NASA, not the FAA, collects, analyzes, and responds to voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident reports and keeps them confidential.
You probably know about the sanctions relief benefit. As the ASRS website notes,
The FAA will not seek, and NASA will not release or make available to the FAA, any report filed with NASA under the ASRS or any other information that might reveal the identity of any party involved in an occurrence or incident reported under the ASRS.
Now let’s talk about other benefits. ASRS is essentially a living directory of invaluable information on all types of aviation safety data. It’s free, it’s confidential, and the database is available to the general public online. The database, along with the free monthly ASRS “Callback” newsletter, can be a major resource to help you avoid making mistakes that other pilots have “pioneered” in their own aviation activities.
ASRS also lets you give back to aviation by sharing your own mistakes in a non-punitive environment. In addition, anyone who uses the National Airspace System (NAS) can use ASRS to report any type of issue involving the safety of aviation operations. Just to name a few examples, you can use ASRS to report faded ground markings at an airport, an airport drone sighting, or a wake turbulence encounter.
The possibilities are endless. The key ingredient to success is making ASRS part of the “all available resources” you use in your own flying.
Susan K. Parson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing and a Special Assistant in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. She is a general aviation pilot and flight instructor.