Airbus Industrie is the first manufacturer to set up confidential reporting.

David Learmount/LONDON

Even co-operative airlines often withhold some information when the report incidents to the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) Safety Information Exchange, according to its administrator, Bob Woodhouse. Fear of litigation explains at least a part of the phenomenon, he believes.

With this kind of problem in mind, airbus Industrie has set up a voluntary confidential reporting system for operators of its aircraft. It's the first manufacturer to operate such a scheme, which has been running since the end of March.

Manufacturers are usually told quickly about technical problems with their aircraft, explains Airbus flight-safety director Yves Benoist, but there is evidence that they are not always informed about operational incidents. This is particularly true, he says, when the events are purely operational. Failure to report fully, however, often extends to events which start with a fault and are compounded either by crew difficulties in dealing with it, or crew failures to follow standard operating procedures, according to Benoist.

The idea of the Airbus Industrie Flight Safety Confindential Reporting System (FSCRS), which is Benoist's own brain-child, was considered at Airbus' July 1994 operators' flight-safety conference and consolidated at the 29-30, March 1995 conference, when 23 operators signed the legal agreement defining the duties of all parties to the arrangement. Already, 11 more carriers have signed, and Benoist points out that, although signatories so far represent 23% of Airbus operators, this covers more than 50% of Airbus aircraft in operation. He says that none has required further investigation or action so far, but, as the database is built up, and if trends begin to show in the kind of events reported, Airbus will have the information necessary to make beneficial changes to procedures or design.

FSCRS reports are filed buy mail or fax to Benoist's office, where only he and his secretary have access to it before it is de-identified. This entails removing reference to the airline, all personnel names, date of the event, route or sector and, unless the airline approves its retention, details of the airport or location. After two months, which allows Benoist to liaise with the reporting carrier to clarify any points, all evidence of the report;s source is destroyed. The database itself contains no identifiers.

The legal agreement itself says: "All participants will treat all information received for the AI FSCRS strictly within the spirit and intent of ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation] Annex 13 and consider it to be confidential information for the sole purpose of accident prevention." Benoist emphasises, however, that any lessons learned, as a result of this information pooling will be disseminated to all Airbus operators, not FSCRS signatories only.

"I have great hopes for this confidential system," says Benoist, "but I also know its limitations. These limitations, he says, are those of all confidential-reporting systems. In the end, many incidents will go unreported unless the pilots make the decision to file a report. Whether they are likely to do so depends in turn upon their employers' attitudes. Benoist says he has been promoting the idea with pilot unions and their reaction has been favourable.

IATA's Woodhouse comments: "[FSCRS] will serve a purpose for Airbus. Anything, which adds to safety knowledge is a good thing."


Source: Flight International