Re: Airline Software-safety database (RISKS-14.08)

From:         palmer@icat.larc.nasa.gov (Michael T. Palmer)
Organization: NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA  USA
Date:         01 Dec 92 13:54:52 PST
References:   1
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Pete Mellor <pm@cs.city.ac.uk> writes:

[etc]

>Incidents in flight must (or should) be reported via offical channels by the 
>crews. These reports drive the manufacturers' quality improvement programmes. 
>After the fault which caused an incident has been diagnosed, it may result in 
>an OEB or similar, and in a modification. 

[etc]

>Databases of such incident reports are not generally widely accessible. 
>Published reports sometimes appear, however. In addition, there are channels 
>for anonymous reporting of incidents. In the UK, "CHIRP" is such a forum. In 
>the US, I believe the FAA used to run such a scheme, but it was compromised 
>when the guarantee of anonymity was removed. 

>For further information I suggest you contact ALPA. 

[etc]

>I stand to be corrected if anyone *does* know of an official channel for 
>public access to flight incident and system fault reports. 


Okay, here goes.  In the USA, NASA and the FAA have teamed up to deploy
the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which is managed by folks at
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, CA.  I believe the original
poster misunderstood the intent and operation of the ASRS, so I will try
to fill in some details.  Anyone from the ASRS Office at Ames is free
to jump in and correct any mistakes I make.

The ASRS collects incident and accident reports for all aviation-related
activities, including flight, air traffic control, and maintenance.  The
way it works is that whenever an individual is involved in an incident,
he or she is encouraged to submit an ASRS report describing what happended,
why they think it happended, and what should be done to correct the problem
so it doesn't happen again.  The fact that a report is submitted (receipts
are kept for proof) is accepted by the FAA as a sheild from legal
retribution except in cases of gross misconduct or criminal intent.  There
is no anonymity, per se, in the filing of the report.

When the reports are collected and entered into the ASRS database, they
have keywords identified to allow easier searches on related topics.  At
this time, they are also "de-identified."  This may be what the original
poster misunderstood as a guarantee of anonymity.  During de-identification,
all references that would lead a later reader of the report to be able to
identify the exact person, place, and aircraft (by N-number) involved are
removed and replaced by generic terms.  This protects filers from, say,
unscrupulous company or government people that seek to harrass them later
for possibly unrelated reasons.

Now, for the good part.  This database, which is HUGE, is publicly
"accessible."  However, the access is controlled, and database search
requests must be submitted to and approved by the ASRS office.  This
helps to prevent frivolous or duplicative use, which could rack up *very*
large costs *quickly* due to the sheer size of the database.  The actual
searches are performed by Battelle, Inc. under contract to NASA Ames.
The Ames (NASA) person to call for more information about the ASRS is
Vince Mellone at (415) 969-3969 or (415) 604-6467.  The database search
requests are actually sent to:

     Battelle ASRS Office
     625 Ellis Street, Suite 305
     Mountain View, CA  94043

If you have never used the ASRS before, I suggest you give Vince a call
first to find out what information you need to provide in your search
request so the Battelle people can help you find what you're actually
looking for.

Note that the ASRS database is NOT "on-line" such that anyone could just
dial in and peruse it at their leisure.  So, this may not suffice for
what the original poster had in mind.  However, I would venture to guess
that any database with enough information in it to provide a reasonable
basis for design would end up being so large that access MUST be controlled
somehow.  I think the ASRS is a good compromise.

-- 
Michael T. Palmer, M/S 152, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA 23681
Voice: 804-864-2044,   FAX: 804-864-7793,   Email: m.t.palmer@larc.nasa.gov
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