“Wonders will never cease,” Sir Henry Bate Dudley said 240 years ago.
Case in point counts at least five “wonders” — it is a government program, has low cost, is a joint effort of two government agencies, is basically a one-person operation, although he has some support assistance and it has been in existence four decades.
The program’s full effect will never be known, but it probably has saved countless lives throughout the world.
Formal name of the program is the Aviation Safety Reporting System.
It is funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Donald W. Purdy is the safety analyst/editor/go-to-guy of the program and operated it from nearly as far from Washington, D.C. as possible — Moffett Field, California.
He is now preparing the 436th edition of “CALLBACK” the public face of ASRS.
The program is an outgrowth of an airplane crash on a mountaintop in 1974, killing all onboard. Accident investigators learned that only six weeks earlier, the crew of another airline narrowly missed the same mountain.
The problem that brought about the narrow miss was related to other crews of the first airline, but other airline crews never got the word.
A need to spread the word was recognized, but the FAA administrator recognized that with both a regulatory and enforcement role, a voluntary role of reporting problems would not fly with the aviation community.
A neutral but respected third party was needed, Purdy said. The result was the joint program.
All members of the aviation community can participate. It is sort of like the Tulsa Police Department’s CrimeStoppers program. Anonymity is assured.
The program cannot be used by the FAA for enforcement purposes, and there is immunity for those making any reports short of a crime or accident.
While the program compiles information on a wide variety of problems, large and small, that go into a data base the industry can use, it is probably best-known for CALLBACK.
Purdy is the third editor of the publication, which in most editions recounts closely related but separate situations reported by several persons, such as the cause (with head-in-the-clouds not uncommon) and how the problem was resolved (sometimes different solutions for different aircraft).
Potentially dangerous situations or problems are spread over the wide spectrum of aviation activities.
Because it gives individuals with a wide range of experience information on how to recognize and overcome similar situations, it will never be known how many have used that knowledge to prevent an accident and save lives.
If it saved one life, the 40-year cost of ASRS paid for itself.
“Wonders will never cease,” even in government.