The overarching goal of aviation safety programs is to improve the overall safety of the industry. That seems reasonable to almost anyone in the industry. What may not be as obvious is that in order to achieve the goal, safety cultures must provide for the open sharing of sensitive information and must provide protections for those who participate in the system.
We have spent a lot of time discussing safety culture, safety programs and how modern safety systems rely on buy-in and participation from all stakeholders. In order to function, aviation safety programs provide legal protection for those reporting issues or mistakes. However, it is obviously not in the best interest of safety to protect anyone who may do something willfully not in the interest of safety. Specifically, to avoid abuse of the system, certain acts are exempted from the protections of safety programs and are subject to full legal prosecution.
I have often heard of these exemptions as “the seven sins of aviation.” Here they are, in no particular order:
1) Reckless Conduct: This would include anything done in relation to an operation that is not conducted with safety as the highest priority. An example might be conducting aerobatics at an airshow without a waiver from the FAA, or otherwise needlessly endangering people or property. If any conduct is determined to be reckless by the appropriate committee, then the report will be excluded from any program providing protection, and action may be recommended.
2) Willful violation of any part of 14 CFR or 49 USC: This includes any policy, procedure, or regulation that was knowingly violated by the person reporting. Examples may include continuing an approach below minimums knowing that visibility requirements are not met, disregarding fuel reserve requirements resulting in an emergency, or operating an aircraft knowing that certain components are not working or have not been deferred.
3) Intentional Falsification of Records: Essentially, this seeks to remove protection from someone who may have made a mistake, but subsequently changed records or documents in an attempt to obfuscate the error. An example might be unintentionally flying an airplane with equipment that was not properly repaired or deferred and then attempting to create a pre-dated logbook entry showing that it was deferred or repaired prior to the conduct of the operation. Another example might be documenting that required maintenance was performed even though it actually was not.
4) Alcohol: It is well understood and should go without saying that if someone operates an airplane while under the influence of alcohol, any subsequent issues or reports will be excluded from protection or accepted in the safety programs. An example would be someone who flies at more than the .04 BAC limit. It would also cover someone who is under the BAC limit, but who is still under the influence of the alcohol at the time of the operation.
5) Substance Abuse: This covers operations conducted under the influence of anything that is not alcohol but is a substance whose use is forbidden by law or whose use impairs safety and judgement. A likely example might be someone who flies an airplane while taking a medication that causes drowsiness or other impairment. These situations are obviously not protected under most safety programs.
6) Controlled Substances: Any act involving controlled substances, whether by operating under the influence of them or not, will typically exempt a report for inclusion. This could include trafficking drugs or precursor chemicals that are deemed “controlled” under the Controlled Substances Act.
7) Possible Criminal Activity: Using an airplane in any manner not described above that could be in conjunction with any other criminal activity would also not be subject to inclusion in a protected safety program. An example might be using an airplane to conduct an illegal transport operation.
It should be noted that one of the biggest factors to consider in all of this is that intent the main criteria for inclusion in a safety program that provides protection. The system is designed to accommodate and accept inevitable human error but not human behavior with malicious intent. Essentially, as long as the reporter was operating with the interest of safety in mind and was not actively engaging in illegal activity, their participation in the program will most likely be protected. ACN