AoC number


Primary domain


Secondary domain



During the 1990s reinventing government movement, there was a proliferation of voluntary programs across government as President Clinton and Vice President Gore streamlined the regulatory enforcement process while also encouraging agencies to maximize voluntary compliance by business (Balleisen 2010). Voluntary programs remain widespread in government today, as regulatory agencies have come to embrace programs that see firms as active participants in their own governance while firms view voluntary programs as an efficient and flexible way to govern themselves and apply industry best practices (Short and Toffel 2010).

To gain access to this valuable safety information, the FAA has developed a suite of voluntary safety reporting programs that offer a regulatory incentive to both air carriers and employees who voluntarily submit incident reports to the agency. The agency uses this data to proactively target its oversight of air carriers and operators while also identifying systemic areas of safety concern across the country. The three main voluntary programs operated by the FAA that gather this data are the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), the Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program (VDRP), and the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). Each of these programs has important differences in the way it is structured, how it is implemented, why it was created, and the type of data it collects that lead to a variety of outputs and challenges. The proliferation of these programs may be a direct result of increasing reluctance to release proprietary information because of fear of litigation.

Potential hazard

  1. As a new industry or risk area is identified, there is a period of proliferation of rules and enforcement action to change behavior. Over time, the regulatory agency produces more and more rules to constrain new behaviors. As the regulated entities adapt and compliance levels rise, public and governmental attention will wane. When this regulatory equilibrium sets in, resources for regulatory oversight typically remains flat or diminishes while at the same time the regulated industry becomes more complex. This period leads to an information asymmetry between the regulator and industry. The next stage in this cycle is when the regulatory agency, faced with waning support elsewhere, turns to the entity it is regulating for support.
  2. While ASRS received almost 49,000 reports from members of the aviation community in 2009, the program faces several challenges:
  3. Perception as a General Aviation Program: Several in the aviation community have questioned the continued need of ASRS with some calling the program a “general aviation reporting system” (Air Carrier Interview 5/13/2010).vi
  4. Lack of Awareness of ASRS Outputs: Interviewees within the FAA and air carriers noted that they had never seen a report or Alert Bulletin produced by ASRS despite regular publications of same. The proliferation of ASAPs within individual carriers and employee groups has greatly diminished the reliance on ASRS protection and outputs.
  5. Competition with other FAA Programs: As more and more carriers enter into agreements to share their proprietary safety data with government-industry collaborative such as ASIAS, ASRS faces increasing perception of the program as a redundant expenditure.
  6. With increasing amounts of information, “Silver’s dilemma” becomes increasingly dominant. It states that the “signal-to-noise-ratio” falls, rather than increases as the sources and volume of information grows. More data is a mixed blessing: risks arise as information growth outpaces the ability of individuals and groups to process it.

Corroborating sources and comments

April 2014


A dissertation submitted to Kent State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Russell W. Mills, May 2011

FAA officials (and some air carriers) describe ASAP as “our most valuable source of safety information” and “the crown jewel of voluntary safety programs” (ASIAS Interview 2/24/2010; AFS-230 Interview 11/6/2009). While ASAP has generated valuable safety information for carriers and the FAA, there are several challenges facing ASAP that are not allowing the FAA to realize the full benefits of the program:

Lack of integration of ASAPs within same carrier: Many ERCs noted that they do not communicate with other ASAP ERCs within the same company. This “silo-ing” of safety information within the same carrier can lead to ineffective root cause analysis and corrective actions (NASA Interview 4/1/2010).

Lack of communication between CMOs: Many FAA inspectors noted that they never communicate with other inspectors who sit on ERCs to discuss safety issues identified through their ERCs

ERC does not have adequate authority to effectively recommend corrective actions: Several carriers and ERCs noted that they do not have the authority to implement changes within carriers. Some noted that they act strategically by withholding a particular recommendation derived from an ASAP report until the number of ASAPs on that issue reaches a critical mass or a high-profile event takes place.

Concerns over confidentiality hinders systemic data analysis at national- level: The lack of direct access to ASAP reports has limited the ability of the FAA to conduct systemic analysis at the national-level, which is one of the major goals of ASAP (Department of Transportation Inspector General Report 2009). While the FAA, through its funding of MITRE and ASIAS, has developed appropriate technology solutions to overcome some of these concerns, the agency’s lack of a national database of ASAP reports limits its ability to fully analyze ASAP data and propose mitigations to safety concerns.

Collaborative data sharing efforts lack authority, resources and technology to effectively analyze ASAP data: The lack of standardization of incoming ASAP data has made the analysis by groups such as ASIAS very difficult. Additionally, the inability of ASIAS to directly commission studies and propose mitigation strategies has limited the ability to look at trending across carriers to identify systemic issues. To date, ASIAS has only conducted 3 directed studies (GAO Report 2010).

Lack of systematic audits leads to complacency among established ERCs: The proliferation of ASAPs across aviation has reduced the ability of AFS-230 to conduct follow-up audits of established ASAPs. Some more established ERCs have become complacent in their analysis of events and would benefit from an evaluation of their processes and procedures.

Lack of staffing limits ability of ERCs to conduct effective root-cause analyses: The most common problem identified with ASAP was the lack of staffing provided by both the air carrier and the FAA. Several carriers and FAA CMO inspectors noted that they believe the FAA should dedicate one inspector to ASAP. ERC members noted that often the FAA representative would often come to meetings unprepared because of their additional inspector workload. Also, carriers noted that they lacked resources to adequately analyze ASAP data within their companies, which would improve their ability to conduct root cause analyses (Air carrier interview 5/14/2010).

Silver, Nate, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t, New York Penguin Press, 2012.

Last update